Bamboo is known to be the fastest growing plant in the world and is naturally organic. Majority of the bamboo grown in different locations of the world is eco-friendly as it requires no pesticides or fertilizers and needs little water. Currently, bamboo fabric is considered to be the trendiest sustainable fabric in the fashion world. However, it is a debatable topic about how eco-friendly is bamboo fabric?
Bamboo plants are capable of growing up to four feet a day. Moreover, bamboo plant releases 35% more oxygen in the air compared to other trees of the same size. With its fast growth, bamboo matures within seven years. It does not need to be replanted as it has a vast root network that continuously sprouts new shoots. It helps to improve soil condition and prevent soil erosion.
There are as many as 1000 types of bamboo grown in different types of climatic conditions all over the world. Owing to all these facts, growing bamboo is considered sustainable for the environment. Due to the softness, smooth flowing, gentle drape, etc., bamboo fabric has received the status of being eco-fashionable in the fashion world.
Even the pricing of bamboo is economical at least when compared with silk and cashmere. Today, the sales of bamboo garments have been boosted with increasing environmental awareness among the people. It is considered to be the new eco-chic as well as functional fabric. Theres a reason for bamboo fabrics for becoming so popular. They are softer than cotton and its texture is more like silk.
In addition, bamboo clothes naturally absorb moisture from the skin and so they are apt fabrics for summer wear. It takes half the time to dry compared to cotton clothes. Therefore, bamboo bedding, towels and rugs have also picked up sales. The general belief that bamboo is eco-friendly and so is bamboo fabric is questionable.
Critics say that the process of converting bamboo into fabric takes a heavy toll on the environment and this is where it loses its eco-friendliness. Bamboo fabrics are produced in two methods: mechanical process and chemical process. The mechanical process is the same eco-friendly process used to make linen fabric from flax or hemp.
In mechanical process the plant is crushed and natural enzymes are used to break the bamboo walls to get natural fibers. These fibers are mechanically scoured out and spun into yarn. Bamboo linen is produced using this process. Moreover, garments from bamboo linen are produced on a very small scale as this process is expensive and more labor intensive.
Most of the bamboo fabric considered as eco-fashion clothing today is chemically processed. In chemical process, bamboo leaves and woody shoots are dissolved using strong chemical solvents like sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide. This process is also known as hydrolysis alkalization which is combined with multi phase bleaching. Both the chemicals are known to create serious health issues.
Carbon disulfide is a toxic chemical that can cause neural disorder and pose danger to human reproductive system, while exposure to sodium hydroxide causes eyes and skin allergy. In most of the factories, the revival of solvent is 50%. This means the other 50% is discarded into the environment.
The production processes for bamboo and other regenerated fibers using hydrolysis alkalization is not considered sustainable or environment friendly because it poses severe health risks and pollutes the surrounding environment. In reality, very rarely bamboo clothing can be termed as eco-friendly or organic clothing.
Some companies manufacturing bamboo garments say that their clothing is 100% eco-friendly. Also, they claim that the garments retain the antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant. Moreover, sometimes companies also falsely claim that pure bamboo fibers are used in making the apparels and market under names like ecoKashmere , Pure Bamboo, Bamboo Comfort etc. while they are basically rayon.
Rayon is a man-made fiber manufactured from the cellulose found in plants and trees. They are processed using toxic chemicals that emit dangerous gases. Bamboo is not different from rayon. Any cellulose of plant or tree including bamboo can be used in making rayon.
When bamboo is used as the cellulose source for rayon, the harsh chemicals used to break up the bamboo plant would destroy the natural antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant. Thus, the fact is bamboo fabric is not antimicrobial or biodegradable.
According to the statistics, nearly all of the worlds bamboo fabric is produced in China. A Chinese firm holds the patent for producing bamboo rayon. Moreover, a Swiss company has developed a method for manufacturing bamboo fabric using enzymes and not chemicals. However, its contribution to the bamboo garment market is just a fraction.
In a column published by Council of Fashion Designers of America, it said that although bamboo is represented as eco-friendly fiber, the process through which it is transformed into fabric is same as producing conventional rayon, which is highly chemical intensive. So, for those consumers who are looking for green clothing, it is better to avoid bamboo fabrics.
Looking at these reasons, if consumers want to purchase bamboo garments, it is advisable to look for certification from reliable companies such as Oeka-Tex, Soil Association, SKAL, or KRAV and similar sustainable certification entity. At present, Oeko-Tex label is considered to be most trustworthy body to ensure that the garments are healthy for the buyers. However, it does not certify that the manufacturing processes while producing the garments are sustainable and eco-friendly.
Lastly, one can conclude that bamboo which is botanically classified as a grass may be worlds most eco-friendly resource. However, manufacturing bamboo fabric using toxic chemicals raise environment and health concerns and thus cannot be considered eco-friendly.