Viscose (or rayon) has often been marketed as a more ecologically sustainable alternative to polyester because unlike polyester which is made from petrochemicals, viscose is made from cellulose. It is also praised by some fashion brands because it requires less water to produce compared with cotton. Viscose is found in a huge variety of clothes and is used by almost every major fashion brand to some extent. Although not inherently unsustainable, it is the production process of viscose that presents a very problematic story. Basically, wood pulp is extracted from wood, then turned into viscose staple fibre (VSF) and filament yarn through a highly chemical process using carbon disulphide. Viscose production faces a three pronged issue: the risk of deforestation of ancient forests, occupational hazards of factory workers who are exposed to highly dangerous toxins that have been linked to neurological damage, and heavy contamination that results from poor waste management of viscose factories, not only polluting nearby waters and air, but causing widespread illnesses to villagers in the vicinity of factories. 
China currently produces over 65% of the world’s viscose fibre; its 21 viscose manufacturers produced 3.511 million tonnes in 2016 and this amount is expected to continue to increase . As is the case with India and Indonesia who are the other two major producers of viscose fibre, the combination of government support, cheap labour and lax regulations is what has pulled viscose production away from Europe and into China . Shandong Silver Hawk Chemical Fibre co. is a large producer of viscose and the viscose plant is located in Silver Hawk Chemical Fibre Industrial Zone . Silver Hawk is the biggest factory in the area, and there are many villages surrounding this industrial zone .
It shall be noted that in the case of industrial pollution in China, often times it is very difficult for local communities to mobilise or protest. Polluting industries bring economic activity and employment to local towns, so villagers are most of the time highly dependent on the industrial activity. Furthermore, it is not uncommon that companies hire security in order to ensure that journalists and investigators cannot report on any wrongdoings of the factories. Corruption and support from secretive governments is another reason that makes it very difficult for residents to stand up for their rights. In this case study, although there is an absence of “mobilization” in the form of protests, residents have made official complaints with the use of petitions.
In 2010, local residents complained about the bad smell in the air coming from the Silver Hawk plant and also accused them of discharging untreated wastewater . They stated that the smell always gets worse during the night, which seems to be a common theme across several viscose cases across China, where the factories pollute the most in the dark of the night.
According to Changing Markets, “in 2011, a report pointed out that Weifang Municipal Government invested 105 million RMB (approximately €13.7 million) in the implementation of the company’s carbon disulphide and hydrogen sulphide waste gas treatment project” . However, again according to Changing Market investigators it did not seem that this investment had in any way changed the suffering caused by pollution for the local residents . Some local residents have taken to social media platforms to complain about the pollution they are enduring.
Investigators from Changing Markets visited nearby villages to speak to residents as well as conduct pollution tests. The investigators observed a foul smell near the factory, and local residents told investigators that the smell is much worse at night, and that during summer they cannot even open their windows . They also told investigators that they had been living under these conditions for around 8 years and they had not noticed any improvements . The pollution tests indicated that both levels of hydrogen sulphide and carbon disulfides were higher than the legal limit .
Apart from the air, the water in the area is also being polluted with toxic waste from Silver Hawk. Several local residents told Changing Markets investigators that the company secretly discharges untreated wastewater during the night into the Beijiao Xinhe River, the water of which has a pungent smell . Changing Markets investigators found that the level of zinc in the waters around the Silver Hawk factory were about triple the permitted limit . Villagers have petitioned and complained to the local authorities and the government several times but their situation has neither changed nor been dealt with . Villagers told the investigators that they have stopped drinking the well water for fear of groundwater pollution and they have stopped using it for irrigation as well .