Is bamboo fabric sustainable? Short answer — it’s complicated.
Most of us assume bamboo fiber is one of the most sustainable fabrics on the market today. I mean, bamboo grows rapidly, it’s naturally regenerating, improves soil quality and prevents erosion, needs few pesticides, absorbs 5 times more carbon and produces 35 percent more oxygen than a similar stand of trees. 1 But, is bamboo fabric really sustainable? Let’s explore.
Ever stop to think about how bamboo is spun into fiber? So this is where things get complicated.
According to NRDC, there are two methods of converting bamboo’s woody pulp into fiber:
– Bamboo Linen:
This is the most sustainable way of spinning bamboo into fiber. The woody parts of the bamboo are turned into mush through the use of natural enzymes. This mush is then naturally converted into fibers which can be mechanically combed out and spun into yarn. Unfortunately, this is an extremely labor-intensive and costly process, so you’re less likely to find bamboo linens on the market today.
– Conventional Viscose Rayon = This is the worst way of spinning bamboo into fiber.
A cocktail of chemical solvents, primarily sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide (which are extremely harmful to the health of workers) are used to “cook” the pulp into a mush. The mush is then spun into yarn and weaved into fabric.
This is NOT a closed-loop system, i.e. the water + chemicals used in this process can’t be recycled. Rather, they’re often dumped back into the ground, left to pollute our waterways.
– Lyocell Process Rayon Fibers = Kind of sustainable.
According to NRDC, “the Lyocell process creates new fiber from bamboo with less toxic chemicals in a closed-loop manufacturing process so none of the chemicals are released into the environment.” While this is definitely a more sustainable alternative to conventional rayon it’s still not perfect.
So, now what?
- Before investing in a new garment, read the label, find out what materials are being used.
- Choose Bamboo Linen or Lyocell/TENCEL bamboo garments.
- If unsure, ask the manufacturer how/who created their products. If they can’t give you a straight answer then move on, find a brand that can.
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