Indonesia Expands Textile Production, Claiming Sustainability

Indonesia Expands Textile Production, Claiming Sustainability
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

What you need to know

Indonesia opened its largest manufacturing plant for viscose, a type of fabric made from trees. The plant claims to be working towards sustainable fashion.

By Hsing Hsu

Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo officiated on February 21 the Asia Pacific Rayon (APR) factory in Pelalawan, Riau.

The new plant is a step forward for Indonesia's Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0. It has the technology to turn wood into fabrics and garments, Jokowi said.

Viscose, a type of rayon, is made from wood cellulose and it is often touted as a more sustainable alternative to polyester, acrylic, and nylon. However, much of the viscose today is used by the fast fashion industry due to its durability and affordability.

Jokowi said he was shocked that wood can be used as a major source of materials for textile products. "The plant also has its own nursery with a total capacity of 300 million seeds. Where in the world could we find a manufacturing plant with such a huge capacity other than in Pelalawan?” he said, emphasizing that advanced technology is not limited to Europe alone.

The APR is an affiliate of pulp and paper producer Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings, and both entities are subsidiaries of the Singapore-based Royal Golden Eagle, according to The Jakarta Post.

APR director Basire Kamba said 4 million people are working in the textile industry in Indonesia. "As sustainable fashion gets global attention, [hopefully] viscose can become an alternative as well as the future textile material; [to] realize the dream of making Indonesia one of the world's textile and fashion powers," he said during a press conference last year.

The manufacturer believes "Everything Indonesia" is the answer to the country's fashion industry. It claims to be the first fiber plant to have the capacity of planting and harvesting trees for sustainable sourcing and manufacturing. According to its sustainable policy, APR is committed to only sourcing wood fiber from sustainably managed plantations.

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Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
In September 2019, President Widodo inspected forest fire damages in Pelalawan, Riau.

'Everything Indonesia'

Valued at around US$2.4 trillion, the fashion industry employs over 75 million people worldwide, according to a report by the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion. The industry is the second-largest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10 percent of carbon emissions, the report added. An average person is now buying 60 percent more clothing items than 15 years ago, creating 92 million tons of waste each year.

With the new APR plant, Indonesia attempts to monitor the entire supply chain for viscose to brand itself as a market for "sustainable fashion."

Is viscose really more sustainable? The key lies in the manufacturing process. Fast fashion brands such as H&M and Zara have been sourcing viscose from Indonesia, China, and India, where factories have been found to cause severe pollution including untreated water waste. During viscose production, the plants would release high levels of carbon disulfide, a toxic and flammable liquid.

The BBC reported that the rising demand for viscose is contributing to deforestation in Indonesia. Although a few brands have been sourcing from sustainably certified forests, the number of trees logged for viscose production is still rising.

In Pelalawan, where the APR plant is set up, the forests were destroyed by recurring fires, a problem accelerated by the expanding palm plantations. Big corporations were accused of clearing vegetation for palm oil, pulp and paper plantations with a slash-and-burn technique to yield extra land.

Indonesia saw 328,724 hectares of land burnt in 2019 alone, most of which were rainforests. Those that have already been developed into economic plantations, however, stayed untouched from the fires, according to Tito Karnavian, the retired national police chief.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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