Is bamboo always eco-friendly?

We’ve talked about bamboo toilet paper and its environmental friendliness in previous blog posts, but as someone rightly pointed out to us, is bamboo really good for everything?

An industry that has been called into question when it comes to bamboo is fashion and clothing. Bamboo clothing has increased in popularity recently, and I myself own a couple of pieces of clothing made from bamboo. We associate bamboo with being eco-friendly, green, and ethical.

But even though bamboo is great for making loo roll or toothbrushes, it isn’t always the case for clothing.

How is bamboo actually made into fabric?

Bamboo in its natural form is a relatively hard material. And so, to reduce this down to a soft fabric can be quite difficult.

There are two types of processes that allow bamboo to be made into fabric material.

The first process is mechanical – it involves shredding, mashing, and combing through the bamboo before it’s spun into thread. This, however, produces coarse fabric that is usually referred to as ‘bamboo linen’. This process is less harmful to the environment but is labour and energy intensive and an expensive process. And the fabric that is produced is not suitable for the products that bamboo is in demand for, i.e. underwear and intimate clothing.

The second process is chemical – the bamboo is converted into fabric that comes in the form of viscose rayon. To produce this, the cellulose is extracted from the plant and dissolved to produce a pulpy viscous substance. This is done through an intense chemical process that involves the use of chemicals such as sulphuric acid and sodium hydroxide.

It is then fed through a spinneret so the strands can solidify to make the fibre, that is then used to make the threads and fabrics.

Around 50% of the hazardous waste from rayon production cannot be recaptured and reused and goes directly into the environment. And as you might have guessed, these chemicals are both toxic to us and the environment. They end up contaminating precious water sources and surrounding land.

Is there any way that bamboo clothing can be eco-friendly?

There is a similar fabric that can be made from bamboo called Lyocell. It’s normally made from eucalyptus plants, but can be made from bamboo too. The process to manufacture Lyocell uses a closed-loop system to recapture and reuse 99% of the chemicals, water, and energy. So, a lot better for the environment!

Few brands are using Lyocell at the moment, but it does seem to be getting more popular with some eco and ethical brands.

Summary

  • It really depends on the brand or manufacturer and the type of process they’ve chosen to use to make their bamboo clothing.
  • We would recommend having a look at product information or clothing labels to see what sort of bamboo the product is made from.
  • Bamboo rayon should be avoided if possible due to its effects on the environment. The way this type of bamboo is manufactured and processed is no better than that used for cotton.
  • Instead, have a look for products made from bamboo linen or lyocell. These are the fabrics that brands should be using as they are sustainable and good for the planet.
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