Lenzing’s circular economy practices

To make its vision a reality, Lenzing follows six main practices that embed various elements of the circular economy into its business model.

These practices are described below and include:

  • Natural circularity
  • Resource-efficient products and technologies
  • Developing commercial-scale recycling technologies
  • Transparency and traceability of supply chains
  • Mitigating climate change
  • Partnering for systemic change

Circular economy model

Circular economy model (illustration)
a) Applies to TÜV certified biodegradable and compostable LENZING™ fibers

As shown in figure “Circular economy model”, the origin of Lenzing’s renewable raw material wood lies in sustainably managed forests and plantations. The wood is processed into pulp in Lenzing’s biorefineries, with the renewable energy produced, being used to meet the energy needs for production and other processes at the site. Lyocell fiber production at Lenzing is a closed-loop process that uses all of the inputs without generating waste products. To address the enormous waste challenges facing the textile industry, Lenzing has developed a unique solution for recycling technologies called REFIBRA™ (for textiles) and Eco Cycle (for nonwovens). These technologies, in addition to virgin pulp, use cotton waste from brands/retailers and end-of-life garments that cannot be reused or refurbished as raw materials after consumer use. At the end of their life TÜV certified biodegradable and compostable LENZING™ fibers are compostable and biodegradable1. This closes for those fibers the material loop and aligns with the natural cycle. As complex global challenges such as the transition from a linear to a circular system require a collaborative approach, Lenzing enters into partnerships with several stakeholders with the clear goal of driving systemic change in the textile and nonwovens industry. Close digital connections facilitate supply chain traceability and help to verify the origin of Lenzing fibers throughout the life cycle up to the final garment. Lenzing strives to find synergistic solutions such as its biorefinery concept, which not only addresses circularity but also contributes to climate change mitigation at the same time.

Carbon emissions (icon)

Climate change and the circular economy

By reducing the need for virgin materials, it i possible to lower the carbon footprint of a product which will help to mitigate climate change. A new air purification and sulfur recovery plant at the Lenzing facility reduces the need for virgin materials saving 15,000 tons of CO2 per year. Lenzing has developed products with recycled materials for example using the REFIBRA™ and Eco Cycle technologies, which have lower carbon footprints than fibers conventionally produced from virgin resources (according to Higg MSI scores).

Circulation (icon)

Natural circularity

Natural circularity covers the biological cycle, which is based on two aspects: renewable origins and the biodegradability and compostability of natural materials. Lenzing’s products are derived from wood sourced from well-managed forests and plantations (as described in the “Raw material security” chapter) and recycled cotton from textile waste. TÜV certified biodegradable and compostable LENZING™ fibers are compostable and biodegradable2. The safe disposal of those fibers into the natural environment enables the cellulose material loop to close in alignment with the biological cycle.

Resource efficiency (icon)

Resource-efficient products and technologies

Cascading use of biomass

The Lenzing Group operates three biorefineries: one in Lenzing (Austria) and one in Paskov (Czech Republic) and one in Indianapolis (Brazil). As depicted in the figure below, Lenzing biorefinery technology converts wood into pulp, biobased co-products and energy. Lenzing sells the valuable biorefinery products, such as LENZING™ Acetic Acid Biobased, LENZING™ Furfural Biobased, xylose, LENZING™ Soda Ash or LENZING™ Magnesium-Lignosulfonate Biobased, to other industries, thereby making a major contribution to the maximum utilization of wood. The biorefineries are self-sufficient in terms of energy. The surplus renewable energy (steam and electricity) that is produced is supplied as renewable energy for on-site use in fiber production and other purposes. This is a prime example of the cascading use of biomass and 100 percent utilization of wood without generating any waste.

Highly efficient use of the raw material wood

Highly efficient use of the raw material wood (illustration)

Closed-loop production

Lenzing’s lyocell process is a closed-loop solvent-based production technology that allows the manufacturing of cellulosic fibers without chemical conversions. The process follows a basic dissolution concept and allows more than 99.8 percent of the solvent to be recovered and recycled. This avoids waste and ensures high resource utilization, while reducing water consumption and emissions.

Lenzing also sets standards for closing the loops even further in the traditional production of viscose and modal fibers. Carbon disulfide and hydrogen sulfide are recovered from the process, converted and returned to the production process as raw materials.

Management of production waste

There are several contexts in which waste is generated in facilities, such as the packaging of procured goods or within production processes. Lenzing follows a waste hierarchy and avoids waste wherever possible. For more information, please see the “Waste management” chapter.

Recycling (icon)

Developing commercial-scale recycling technologies

Lenzing has developed a recycling technology called REFIBRA™ to address the enormous textile waste challenges facing the industry. This technology utilizes a substantial proportion of cotton waste as well as dissolving wood pulp as raw materials. Lenzing continued to offer TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™ branded lyocell fibers with up to 30 percent recycled content in 2022. Along with dissolving wood pulp, pulp from cotton scraps is used for the closed-loop commercial-scale production of lyocell fiber. While this creates a significant environmental improvement, it creates high-quality fibers with the same properties as fibers from virgin dissolving wood pulp. The fiber is available under the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS), certifying that all production processes in the entire supply chain have undergone the relevant steps to ensure the integrity of the final product.

The TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™ market presence was stepped up in 2022, with an increasing number of collections and more than 40 brands already offering garments or products containing TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™. Some of these brands also use the option of closing the loop to return garment production waste to Lenzing as a raw material base for garments and home textile products made with TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™ fibers. To advance circularity, concrete actions are needed from more industry players than just hollow commitments. Without translating commitments into actions, circular innovations cannot be upscaled. 

Lenzing runs an active research and development project to further improve the utilization of post-consumer textile waste for the production of fully biobased and biodegradable fibers.

We give waste a new life. Every day

In line with its vision, “We give waste a new life. Every day”, Lenzing is striving to make textile waste recycling a common standard process similar to paper recycling. Lenzing has set a target and taken measures to make this vision a reality: it plans to offer viscose, modal and lyocell staple fibers with up to 50 percent post-consumer recycled content on a commercial scale by 2025. For more information, please see the “Sustainability targets, measures and progress” chapter.

Magnifying glass (icon)

Transparency and traceability of supply chains

Transparency provides a foundation for credible sustainability performance, especially the circular economy that will be part of the upcoming EU legislation for supply chain due diligence. Gaining a deeper understanding of Lenzing’s suppliers and downstream customers is critical to minimizing the Lenzing Group’s overall environmental as well as social impact and putting it on the right track to achieve a low-impact, carbon-neutral footprint by 2050. Traceability also gives customers and end users confidence. Close digital connections across the network help close the loops efficiently and holistically and facilitate the transition from a linear to a circular supply chain. More information on digitalization is provided in the “Digitalization & cyber security” chapter.

Partnering (icon)

Partnering for systematic change

Collaboration is essential to the transition to a circular economy. Partnering for systemic change is one of the basic principles of Lenzing’s “Naturally positive” sustainability strategy for jointly achieving targets with Lenzing’s major stakeholders. Lenzing is part of several initiatives that strive to foster the circular economy in the fashion industry. More information can be found in the “Stakeholder engagement” chapter.

1 LENZING™ fibers which are TÜV certified biodegradable and compostable include the following products: LENZING™ Viscose Standard textile/nonwovens, LENZING™ Lyocell Standard textile/nonwovens, LENZING™ Modal Standard, LENZING™ FR Standard(a), LENZING™ FR Black(a), LENZING™ Lyocell Filament(b), LENZING™ Lyocell Dry(b), LENZING™ Web Technology. a) LENZING™ FR Standard and LENZING™ FR Black are only industrial compostable. b) LENZING™ Lyocell Filament is not tested for marine biodegradability and LENZING™ Lyocell Dry is not compostable in salt water.

2 LENZING™ FR Standard and LENZING™ FR Black are only industrial compostable. LENZING™ Lyocell Filament were not tested for marine biodegradability and LENZING™ Lyocell Dry is not compostable in salt water.

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