When you think of bamboo, you probably picture cute pandas snacking on this type of grass. Not only can bamboo be a type of dish for our panda friends and humans, but it’s also used for making clothes, cutlery & plates, medicine, building roads, and much more! Bamboo is considered to be the fastest growing type of grass, which doesn’t normally require any fertilizers or pesticides to grow, and it takes about 4 years for it to be ready to be harvested. Let’s explore below if wearing organic bamboo fabric can make a positive or negative impact on the environment and our health.
How Is Bamboo Fabric Made?
There are two ways to make bamboo fabric:
- Mechanically – this is done by breaking the woody part of the bamboo, and then using natural enzymes to break it down further, which then the fibers are combed out. The result of this are “bamboo linen”, which are not suitable to make the silky and comfortable active wear that we are used to. This way of making the fabric is very costly & labor intensive.
- Chemically – this method is usually done by soaking bamboo shoots and leaves in sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, which then goes through another phase called “multi-phase bleaching” – which then it ultimately turns into yarn. This is the most popular method that companies utilize to produce bamboo fabric, also known as “bamboo rayon”.
The Good Side of Bamboo Fabric
There are numerous benefits for producing bamboo clothing, but specially in the process of cultivating bamboo.
- When cultivating bamboo…
- Don’t need to replant it, AND it only takes about 1 year to harvest again after chopping down the bamboo shoot. This also helps to prevent soil erosion as you don’t need to keep planting again and again
- It doesn’t require any chemicals (although this doesn’t mean that some companies are not using)
- Grows very fast
- Uses little space – in fact, in one acre of land, you can plant around 150 tons of bamboo! This is a lot more compared to cotton
- May help to slow down global warming – as it can absorb a lot of carbon dioxide
Due to all the benefits of cultivating the bamboo as listed above, bamboo has a fairly low cost production compared to other types of fabric which are from raw natural materials.
- Bamboo Fabric
- It lasts longer, as the fabric is less likely to shrink
- Moisture-wicking and breathable
- Light weight
- Antibacterial – due to the natural bio-agent called “kun”, which keeps bacteria and fungi away from the bamboo fiber (this is why there’s no need to use pesticides to grow bamboo)
- Biodegradable – meaning it can decompose rather than lasting thousands of years and polluting our earth
This makes it perfect for wearing it to a yoga session or practicing any type of sports.
The Ugly Side Of Bamboo Fabric
So wait, would you consider bamboo fabric 100% eco friendly? Not so fast! Although harvesting bamboo seems to have never ending benefits, there’s a dark side to this story.
The problem is when we are turning the natural bamboo into fabric. Bamboo fabric is not called bamboo rayon by coincidence. Bamboo & rayon both use the same chemical process of breaking down the bamboo by using toxic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide. Prolonged exposure to carbon disulfide chemicals can do some serious damage to our nervous system. Sodium hydroxide is not really harmful to humans, but it is to the environment if it finds a way into our wastewater. These chemicals don’t necessarily stay in the fabric that we wear, but it’s highly toxic to the workers who has to deal with them. This is definitely something to think about before purchasing clothes made out of regular bamboo fabric – would you really want to support a company that may be harming their employees? It may be easy to say that people should refuse to work under dangerous conditions, but the reality is that many people have no choice.
The Best Choice Is To Choose Organic & Be Aware Of the Manufacturing Process
When bamboo fabric is certified organic, you can rest assured that no chemicals are used when cultivating the bamboo. Certifications to be aware of: OCIA (Organic Crop Improvement Association), IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement), FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), and Eco Cert.
However, as mentioned above, we do need to pay attention to the chemicals used when manufacturing bamboo fiber. One certification that is important for eco friendly companies to have is OEKO-TEX 100. They ensure that the finished fiber goes through vigorous testing for any chemical that may be detrimental to a person’s health.
The ideal solution would be to buy bamboo active wear that are made via mechanical means. Unfortunately the fabric would be really rough, and not suitable at all for exercising. Although we still need a chemical process to break down bamboo into the desirable fabric that we love, the process used called the “closed-loop system” is a much better solution compared to the regular process. This is because:
- the chemical used should be less toxic
- the chemical that is used should be caught during the process and re-used time after time, meaning it shouldn’t contaminate our rivers and oceans.
Do keep in mind that we also need to pay attention regarding the finishing process of creating organic bamboo clothing, such as whether the dyes, finishing and anti-pilling chemicals are toxic or not.
Not All Bamboo Fabric Are Created Equally
One thing that I have learned in the past few years is that it’s hard to pinpoint what is the most eco friendly or most harmful type of fabric. It all depends on the company that are manufacturing them. This is why it’s so important to research regarding the company that you wish to buy from. The number one characteristic that I look for in an eco friendly company is TRANSPARENCY. If they are being transparent regarding the materials and process that they are using, even if not 100% eco friendly, it’s better to purchase an eco friendly apparel than buying regular clothing that is severely polluting our environment. And of course, it’s also imperative that working conditions, for the workers at these companies, are legal and fair. If you are looking for a sustainable organic bamboo fabric brand, check out Boody Eco Wear.
What do you think of using organic bamboo fabric? Feel free to comment below!