The Life Cycle of Tencel

Recently, we decided to use Tencel in our new clothing line. We did it because the voices on the internet told us that “Tencel is a sustainable fiber...” and we believed them. We received results from brands, bloggers, journalist, influencers and anyone in-between presenting facts and figures about the sustainability of the fiber. However, what we didn’t see, were sources to facts or figures of any reputable source. So we decided to create this page. The goal was simple - be helpful. Be helpful to anyone that wants dig a little deeper and provide sources to all data, and in many cases original sources. We wanted to discuss the good, the bad and the unknown. Most importantly, we didn’t want to be afraid of showing all the facts. Hopefully we did that.

We created a short and long version. The short is just what you see as you scroll the page. The long version is accessible by clicking on the images and text. The long version is where you will see the full story and links to learn more.


Rayon: A textile fiber or fabric made from regenerated cellulose.




Keeping this short and simple -  Yes, Tencel is 100% biodegradable/compostable. The image below demonstrates lyocell's biodegradability in surface soil over 16 weeks.


Keeping this short and simple - Yes, Tencel is 100% biodegradable/compostable. The fiber has a highly crystalline structure which means two things for us: it’s strong and does not biodegrade easily. The highly crystalline structure gives the end fiber an increased tensile strength that is stronger than cotton and other forms of regenerated cellulose fibers. However, having a highly crystalline structure also prevents it from easily biodegrading. While that might sound bad, it’s not. If consumers keep their clothes away from landfills, the high tensile strength of Tencel should give garments/products a long life! And because Tencel will biodegrade, when the fiber ends up in the ground, it will eventually do so! It just takes a little more time.

In surface soil, Tencel takes about 16 weeks to fully biodegrade. Rayon degrades in roughly 3 weeks and cotton in roughly 5½ weeks. If disposed in landfills, the amount of time is impossible to determine. The correct answer is: keep your items out of landfill by keeping them, selling them, donating them or disposing of them in other fashions. A few quick tips - ask the brand if they take back unwanted items, many (including us) do! You can also look for clothing bins!





The future is all about NMMO and the types of cellulose and derivatives that is can be used with. Below is the process of turning cutting room cotton scraps back into a usable fiber. The processes is called REFIBRA.


The future of Tencel has more to do with the NMMO solution. Since NMMO is non-toxic, easily made and 99% recyclable, the expansion of mixing it with different types of cellulose and its derivatives seems to be a hot topic.

Lenzing is currently in production with a new Tencel that uses a technology called REFIBRA. The process is exactly the same as Tencel but part of the cellulose input is derived from pre-industrial cotton scrapes - mostly from cutting rooms. Those scraps are turned into pulp and then blended with wood pulp. After that, the Tencel process continues as usual.


  • Cotton scraps that are usually landfilled can be reused.
  • Lenzing claims the ReFriba process uses 95% less water compared to conventional cotton. From my research, that seems well within the standard deviation of regular Tencel. No data exists on the comparison of REFIBRA and with the regular Tencel process.

The idea is extremely cool and while it’s new, it seems to have a huge potential. When talking to Innovation In Textiles, Tricia Carey of Lenzing mentioned, post-consumer waste is the next goal of the REFIBRA technology. If successful, the environmental implications would be tremendous! Remember, only fabrics or clothes derived from 100% cellulose would be applicable at the moment, polyester blends would not. I should note that more research is needed in the Life Cycle Assessment before a definite conclusion but I can only assume it will be positive as scraps are used instead of virgin materials.  

Lastly, I was not able to find the exact amount of cotton to wood pulp ratio used in the REFIBRA process. I’m sure it’s proprietary. What I did find was that Lenzing’s Tencel using REFIBRA technology is part of Recycled Claim Standard which is a “chain of custody standard to track recycled raw materials through the supply chain.” From my understanding, the standard will track any product with 5% of its content being of recycled origin. Not significant but worth noting.

Final Thoughts

We like to imagine sustainable fashion as being 100% sustainable. However, it never really works like that. When creating and using any piece of fashion in this world, large amounts of energy, water and resources are needed. Honestly, nothing in fashion can truly be 100% sustainable. While that might seem to contradict to the term “sustainable fashion”, we find it as more of a guideline. When we create fashion, we create it with the purpose of being conscious of the environment. We strive to use resources that provide the least amount of harm to the planet and the people living on it. While that has many applications to different brands, consumers and environmentalist, we see it as a great starting point. While we want to leave the question “Is Tencel Sustainable?” for you to judge... For us at Soluna Collective, Tencel will be part of our fabric mix now and into the future. It will not be the only fabric but it will be a part of our diverse mix!

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