Man-Made Fibres and Sustainability

Industry in general, and the Man-made Fibres (MMF) Industry in particular, have a long history in the pursual of initiatives which support sustainability.  Since 1992, the responsible care programme has been adopted in many countries, and has been applied by man-made fibre producers, see www.responsiblecare.org 

Just like for any other product, the consumption of energy, raw materials and all other resources, and also the emission of solid, liquid and gaseous waste determine the sustainability of man-made fibres, but we should certainly not forget the in-use phase, in which substantial environmental savings can be made, as well as the disposal or recycling phase.

Improving the sustainability of man-made fibres is the guiding principle to improve ecological, economical and social performance. The study which measures these elements is called a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). This study might also include further industrial operations down the pipeline and consumer operations, until final disposal or recycling. MMF are as such very diverse in their properties and performance, going through a wide range of processes, before being used in an enormous range of technical and textile applications. This makes it very difficult to track the complete LCA, which is called cradle-to-cradle. This is the reason why many product-LCA’s go from cradle to factory gate only.

Typical process steps or life cycle stages are; Raw materials, Fibre production, Fabric Production, Dyeing, Printing and Finishing, Conversion to the End Product, Transportation, Product Use and Maintenance, Recycling, Incineration or Disposal. 

Measuring the sustainability performance can be made at production location or plant level.  The result of this evaluation indicates the potential for product and process improvement, with the ability to focus efforts on the portion of the product lifecycle likely to produce the greatest result. Consequently, Man-made Fibre producers are continuously active on all aspects of improving the LCA and sustainability of their product. Not only existing products are further improved, but research activities are now also focused on new products environmentally outperforming the existing ones.