Birla Cellulose: Circular fibres for sustainable fashion

Birla Cellulose, part of the Aditya Birla Group, is a leading sustainability focused Man-Made Cellulosic Fibres (MMCF) producer and operates 12 sites that apply environmentally efficient closed-loop technologies that recycle materials and conserve natural resources. Its five global advanced research centres are equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and pilot plants. Its sustainable products Livaeco by Birla Cellulose™, Liva Reviva, Birla Excel™ (lyocell) and Birla Spunshades™ are designed with superior sustainable credentials and are produced using advanced processes and closed loop technologies. The wood used in Birla Cellulose comes from sustainably managed forests certified and controlled sources and Birla Cellulose is ranked #1 by Canopy Hot button Report 2020 for its leadership in Sustainable forestry practices and development of next generation fibres. Birla Cellulose collaborates actively with its upstream and downstream partners with an aim to create a bigger and broader positive impact on sustainability performance, climate change and circularity. It also works closely with global sustainability focussed organizations like Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), Canopy, Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC), Changing Markets Foundation, Textile Exchange, WBSCD, Fashion for Good, Global Fashion Agenda, amongst others to continually learn and apply the best practices in its global operations and across its value chain.

Background

It is estimated that fashion industry generates nearly 92 million tons of waste annually, out of which less than 1% is recycled. Most of it goes to landfill / incineration, and a large amount leaks to the environment leading to land and water pollution. There have been three key challenges to building circular business model in the fashion industry – availability of technology to recycle the fibres, lack of reverse logistics to segregate recyclable fibres and fabrics are not designed with view of circularity.  

Growing consumer awareness concerning impact of clothing on environment, depletion of resources and climate change has led to the industry exploring and adapting more sustainable raw material options.

Responsibly produced MMCFs have emerged as one of the most sustainable fibre choices due to their sustainability credentials. MMCFs are made from natural and renewable wood sourced from sustainably managed forests and are made using closed loop process, which have much lower environmental impact compared to other fibres, MMCF are biodegradable in soil, water and marine environment and are easily compostable at the end of life With the advancement of technology, the waste cotton from pre- and post-consumer  waste can now be recycled back into the viscose fibre which can replace use of virgin wood based pulp, thus providing a great potential of making a large shift from linear business model to circular business model. 

The initiative

The challenge to recycling was that  no technology was available to recycle pre- and post-consumer cotton waste into fresh fibres. 

Investing in textile waste recycling technology has been a key part of Birla Cellulose’s commitment to contributing to a circular economy. Its R&D efforts have led to several innovations that have shown promising results and are in various stages of development.

Liva Reviva

Birla Cellulose has achieved a breakthrough in manufacturing viscose fibre “Liva Reviva” using pre-consumer cotton waste and following the principles of circular economy. It has successfully stabilized production of the Recycled Claimed Standard (RCS) certified product, Liva Reviva which contains up to 30% pre-consumer waste and rest wood pulp from sustainable forests.

Performance of Liva Reviva is at par with 100% virgin wood-based cellulosic fibre and it has already been adapted by major global brands and several other brands are developing collections based on Liva Reviva.  

Liva Reviva has several ecological benefits in addition to circularity, it has lower water consumption and lower GHG emission as compared to generic viscose based on Higg MSI tool provided by SAC.

GreenTrack™ – blockchain based traceability platform

Birla Cellulose understands the importance of traceability & transparency. Through its blockchain based platform GreenTrack™, Birla Cellulose along with its value chain partners track material flow in the supply chain from forest to retail. Through simple scan of QR code end-to-end sustainability journey is visible to consumers and helps them make an informed purchase decision.

Other Circular Fibres in Development

Birla Cellulose R&D team is working on several other waste recycling processes, and several of these processes are looking promising. Recently it filed for joint patent for nanollose lyocell fibres which are based on microbial biomass based on food waste. It is also working on developing fibres based on agri-waste of different types and lyocell fibres derived from algae based bio-mass. In coming years, Birla Cellulose hopes to commercialize more circular fibres thereby giving the brand partners and customers wider choices on circular fibres and also reducing the pressure on virgin wood based pulp. 

Impact and opportunities

Birla Cellulose has successfully established Liva Reviva  for textile applications and achieved properties similar to standard viscose fibres. Birla Cellulose has established a complete traceability system based on GreenTrack™ platform which provides traceability of entire value chain based on block chain based technology and a unique embedded molecular tracer.  

It has also established ‘reverse logistics’ system for collecting  suitable cotton waste for recycling  and this has created a positive social impact for recycling industry which comes from weaker section of society, as the value of waste has increased by upcycling. Currently these efforts are being expanded.

Recognition

Birla Cellulose has emerged as a winner in the first edition of the  “National Innovative and Sustainable Supply Chain Awards” by UN Global Compact Network India held in April 2021 

The case study – Liva Reviva & Fully Traceable Circular Global Fashion Supply Chains – was awarded for innovation for circular fibre made with pre-consumer waste and end-to-end ‘live’ supply chain transparency and traceability through its unique blockchain-based platform GreenTrack™.

Way Forward

Birla Cellulose’s current efforts are focussed on developing products made with post-consumer waste and increased use of alternate feedstock. It plans to aggressively scale up the production of circular fibres   to a level of 100,000 tons per year by 2024 and is committed to accelerate innovations that are aligned with UN SDGs 2030. 

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