In recent years bamboo plants have been used in a wide range of products from durable cutting boards to clothing. With such a range in product uses, bamboo plants have to go through quite the processing to become fabric fit for apparel. Similar to rayon, which is made of wood pulp, bamboo fabric is soft, has a luxurious sheen and is easy to launder. The question remains, is it really sustainable, or is it harmful to the environment? Consider the following as you make your personal decision:
The Growing Stage
The bamboo plant is one of our most sustainable resources. As a woody grass, it is one of the fastest growing plants with the ability to grow 3-4 feet a day. It does wonders for the environment it grows in, sucking up greenhouse gases to produce oxygen, and it requires little to no irrigation or fertilizers. This means it's even better than cotton plants, which require 25% of the world's insecticides and tons of fertilizer.
At this point you're probably asking yourself why there is even a controversy behind bamboo usage in the textiles industry. The controversy lies within the production stages of bamboo. There are several methods used to make bamboo into fibers for yarn and textile production, the worst one is hydrosis alkalization which requires cooking the bamboo in a chemical solvent that contains heavy bleaching and components harmful to human health. The chemicals used in this process make bamboo a less sustainable fabric.
There is a more sustainable solution: a mechanical process used on bamboo similar to the process transforming flax seed into linen. It crushes the bamboo wood and uses natural enzymes to allow extraction of the natural fibers within the plant. However, this process is time and labor intensive, therefore making it more expensive for production.
Another better solution is the viscose process. Although it still requires quite a few chemical solutions to generate the fibers from a bamboo cellulose solution, the components are said to be harmless to human health, and almost 100% of the chemicals are kept from waste and used again, as the process is a closed loop system. This process is becoming more and more popular.
What does this all mean?
Bamboo plant is a wonderful, sustainable resource to grow for our production needs; however, we need to also be conscious about the integrity of the process from plant to product. While there are some harmful and unfortunately more popular processes out there to create textiles from bamboo, we are coming up with better solutions.