Are bamboo clothes eco friendly? Complete guide: Advantages and disadvantages
Bamboo clothes can be eco friendly and sustainable, but as with all things it’s not as straightforward as you might think.
There are a number of advantages and disadvantages of bamboo fabric which can often be overlooked. Here we will explore the truth and ask, are bamboo clothes really eco friendly?
14 ways bamboo clothes are eco friendly:
This all sounds well and good, but before you rush out and buy bamboo clothing, there are a few things you need to know about bamboo fabric.
Why bamboo is not sustainable?
So after all the advantages of bamboo, what are the disadvantages? Why is bamboo not sustainable and how can it be bad for the environment?
Although bamboo is fast growing and requires no pesticides, it doesn’t mean that it is being sustainably grown. The majority of bamboo is grown in China, which is a country not recognised for its high levels of transparency.
There is limited information regarding the intensity of bamboo being grown and harvested in China, or what sort of land clearing might be underway to make space for mono-crop farming. There's also no guarantee that pesticides aren't being used to maximise bamboo output. This being said, over the past few years the Chinese government has implemented stricter control measures on intensive bamboo processing, which is progress we like to see.
What is bad about bamboo Fibre?
So far, you may be thinking what is bad about bamboo fibre? While it is certainly more sustainable than cotton and synthetic fabrics in the cultivation phase, this sadly isn’t the case across the manufacturing process.
There are several ways to turn bamboo into bamboo fabric, and the sustainability of these processes can vary significantly.
The first is a mechanical method, which crushes the woody parts of the bamboo plant into a pulp. This is then combed and spun into a yarn, producing a relatively coarse fabric called “bamboo linen”. This process is similar to that used to make linen from flax or hemp, and creates an equally sustainable fabric. Although sustainable, it is labour intensive and expensive to produce, and lacks the super soft feel that bamboo has come to be known for. As a result, it is much less common to find bamboo fabric made through the mechanical process.
The second method used to make bamboo fabric is much cheaper and less labour intensive than the mechanical process, and it creates a silky soft “bamboo rayon” that most shoppers view as superior. It is likely how the bamboo clothes you find in the shops have been created. Sadly, bamboo rayon is produced through a highly intensive chemical process that is incredibly bad for the environment.
This chemical process used to make bamboo rayon is called viscose processing, which means instead of breaking down the bamboo wood mechanically, it is dissolved in a chemical solution to produce a pulpy viscous substance. This pulp is then pushed through a spinneret, ‘spinning’ it into a thread that can be woven into the soft fabrics that shoppers expect.
The chemicals required to dissolve the bamboo in the viscose process include caustic soda and carbon disulphide, which are highly toxic and harmful to human health. It’s estimated that around 50% of the chemicals used in the viscose process cannot be recycled and likely end up evaporating into the air or running off into local waterways.
Can bamboo clothes be sustainable?
Before you start to panic and swear to never buy bamboo again, it’s important to note that most solid unmanipulated bamboo products are awesome for the environment and very eco friendly, as they are more sustainably grown than their hardwood alternatives and often require less maintenance.
Bamboo clothes can also be made sustainably, with innovation over recent years holding a lot of promise for the future.
One environmentally friendly way to make fabrics using chemicals is through a process called lyocell, which is how TENCEL® is made. Instead of using intensive chemicals, lyocell uses a non toxic amine solution that is recaptured and reused in a closed loop system. It requires lower energy and water input, and recycles 99% of the solution needed to help dissolve the wood into a pulp. It has such a high sustainability rating that it has been awarded by the European Union with the “European Award for the Environment”.
There is no reason why this process couldn’t similarly be used to create bamboo fabric, the only inhibitor being that it requires more investment to create the factories. As demand for sustainable clothing increases, lyocell manufacturing will hopefully become increasingly common.
So, is bamboo a sustainable fabric?
Are you still left wondering, is bamboo really a sustainable fabric? Bamboo is usually a very sustainably grown crop, however you need to make sure you are not buying bamboo rayon, the most common type of bamboo fabric on the market. Bamboo rayon requires intensive chemicals during the manufacturing of the fibres, 50% of which may well end up being released into the local environments.
The Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres provides us with a classification for the most sustainable clothing fabrics, with Class A having the least impact on the environment, and Class E the most negative environmental impact. Bamboo viscose and rayon are classified as Class E, meaning that research suggests that bamboo is not an eco friendly fabric.
For us, bamboo is still preferred to regular cotton, largely due to the destructive agricultural processes required to make the cotton clothing we see on the high street. However it must be remembered that bamboo viscose still falls within the same rating as cotton and therefore can’t truly be called a sustainable fabric.
Find out more about our use of bamboo here: https://cariki.co.uk/pages/bamboo-fabric-properties
Want to read more on bamboo?
We've written a number of articles about the pros and cons of bamboo. Some of these might peak your interest:
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