The use of banana stems as a source of fibre declined after other convenient fibres such as cotton and silk became popular. But in recent years the commercial value of banana fibre has increased and it is used all over the world for multiple purposes from making tea bags and sanitary napkins to Japanese yen notes and car tyres. Avneet Kaur writes about the story of banana fibres, explaining in detail its use in ancient times, its characteristics, the extraction process and the possible uses of the eco-friendly fibres in the textile industry.

 

What was earlier regarded as agricultural waste and a nuisance for farmers is now a raw material for good quality silk grade fibre yarn.

 

That's the story of banana fibre. Also known as musa fibre, it is one of the strongest natural fibres. This biodegradable natural fibre from the bark of the banana plant is so durable that if we make currency notes from it, the notes can be used for more than a hundred years. It can be used to make silk grade saris and just as it can be used in car tyres.

 

Banana stem, hitherto considered a complete waste, is now is now being made into banana-fibre cloth which comes in differing weights and thicknesses based on what part of the banana stem the fibre was taken from. The innermost sheaths are where the softest fibres are obtained, and the thicker and sturdier fibres come from the outer sheaths.

 

Made up of thick-walled cell tissue and bonded by natural gums, banana fibre is similar to natural bamboo fibre but its fineness and spin ability are better bamboo and ramie fibres. It is mainly composed of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin.

 

When, Where, and How?

According to archaeologists, the banana was first domesticated in the Kuk valley of New Guinea around 8,000 BCE. Though this is the first known location of banana domestication, other spontaneous domestication projects may have occurred throughout South East Asia and the South Pacific.

Historically, banana stems had been used as a source of fibre with the earliest evidence dating to the 13th century. But its popularity faded after other convenient fibres such as cotton and silk were made popular. For centuries, banana fibre textiles were made in Japan and Nepal.

 

In Japan, banana fibres were a prized substitute for silk and were traditionally woven into ceremonial garments for the wealthy. In both Nepal and Japan, the outermost sheaths of the banana plant were used for making cloth that was not intended for articles of clothing. Coarser banana cloth was used for place mats, floor mats and sun shades.

 

Initially, people in Japan and Nepal realised that except for the fruit, the complete banana tree is cut and thrown as a waste. After exploring the tree, they figured out that the stalk can be used to make strong ropes. Eventually, they discovered other uses of banana fibre.

 

Today, banana fibre is used all over world for multiple purposes. Commercial value of the fibre has increased over the years. Transforming the waste into a usable fabric and other products is a great achievement.

 

References

http://cwh.ucsc.edu/bananas/Site/Early%20History%20of%20the%20Banana.html scholastic paper- environmental friendly banana fibre

http://www.quantumcatdesigns.com/Fabrics-Banana-Fibre.aspx

http://www.bananafibre.in/pages/banana.html

scholastic paper-environment friendly banana fibre

http://www.teonline.com/knowledge-centre/banana-fibre.html

http://www.bananafibre.in/pages/banana.html

project file on banana fibre processing and textile unit

http://www.bananafibre.in/pages/products.html

http://www.infodev.org/highlights/entrepreneur-story-turning-waste-banana-harvests-silk-fibre-textile-industry

Banana fibre extracting project-scholastic paper

Banana fibre for lasting currency note-research paper

USAIN Hygiene improvement project counselling card

Scholastic paper-environment friendly banana fibre

http://www.ecosalon.com/fibre-watch-fabric-from-bananas

Indian Journal of Fundamental and Applied Life Sciences ISSN: 2231-6345 (Online) http://www.cibtech.org/jls.htm 2012 Vol. 2 (1) January- March, pp.217 -221 /Brindha et al.

Journal of materials science 18 (1983)

Japan Echo Inc. 2005. Banana Stem Become Denim-like Cloth. Domestic Japanese News Source. 1-6. DOI= http://web-japan.org/trends/science/sci040105.html

Banana Fibre: Environmental Friendly Fabric Uraiwan Pitimaneeyakul King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, THAILAND

J. Mater. Environ. Sci. 3 (1) (2012) 185-194 ISSN: 2028-2508 CODEN: JMESCN Mechanical Behavior of Banana Fibre Based Hybrid Bio Composites

RMUTP International Conference: Textiles & Fashion 2012 July 3-4, 2012, Bangkok Thailand

Section III Banana fibre ribbon with flowers

Project Profile on Banana Fibre Processing and Textile Unit

Penorma Forestry Research paper vol.1 No.1 2005



Article: Banana fibre extracting project (A wealth from waste concept)


Though popular for its fruit, the banana plant has long been a source of fibre for high quality textiles. Banana fibre was used in Philippines for making shirts and other dresses. In Japan, the cultivation of banana for clothing and household use dates back to at least the 13th century. The fibres, extracted from the banana stem, are odourless and can be dyed. They do not shrink and the colour does not fade after a wash. The fabric's stiffness, even in the absence of starch, could make it a favourite among politicians. The fabric could be 100 per cent banana fibre; a mix of 60 per cent cotton will give it maximum durability.

 

Characterstics:

         Natural sorbent: Fabric from theses fibres lets you breathe well and will keep you cool on hot days.

         Soft, supple and shimmer: Banana fabric is soft and supple, though not quite as soft as cotton or rayon. Nearly all plant stem-based fibres are a little more stiff and coarse than cotton or rayon. Its natural shimmer makes it look a lot like silk.

         Comfort: Banana fibre clothing is comfortable and not likely to trigger allergies.

         Biodegradable.

         Resistance: It is grease-proof, water-, fire- and heat-resistant.

         Durability: Even if the banana fabric is made from the tough outer sheath, it is not as strong and durable as any fabric like hemp, bamboo, or other natural fibre.

         Insulation: It is not particularly insulating.

         Spin ability and tensile strength: It is better than other organic fibres in terms of spin ability and tensile strength.

 


Properties

Banana fibre

Jute

Paper

Hemp

Sisal

Highest Tensile Strength

Yes

 

 

 

 

Extensibility

Yes

 

 

 

 

Water resistance

Yes

 

 

 

 

Softness

Yes

 

Yes

 

Yes

Fire resistance

Yes

 

 

Yes

Yes

Grease proof

Yes

 

 

 

 

 

What makes banana fibres special?

         Banana fibre is a good alternative to all the synthetic and natural fibres.

         Banana fibre is eco-friendly, chemical-free, non-toxic and odour-free.

         The natural coolant and medicinal property of banana fibres helps in the health of its user and is 100 per cent safe as no harmful chemicals and colours are used.

 

 

Fibre properties

Tenacity

29.98 g/denier

Fitness

17.15 denier

Moisture regain

13 per cent

Elongation

6.54

Alco-ben extractives

1.70 per cent

Total cellulose

81.8 per cent

Alpha cellulose

61.5 per cent

Residual Gum

41.9 per cent

Lignin

15 per cent

 

Banana fibre is also blended with many different fibres to make ring spun yarns and open end spun yarns. The following table shows their count:

Banana fibre ring spun yarn

Description

Count (Ne)

100 per cent banana fibre yarn

8-40

70 per cent banana fibre 30 per cent combed cotton

16-40

50 per cent banana fibre 50 per cent combed cotton

16-40

30 per cent banana fibre 70 per cent combed cotton

16-40

70 per cent banana fibre 30 per cent modal

16-40

30 per cent banana fibre 30 per cent tencel

16-40

50 per cent banana fibre 50 per cent soybean fibre

16-40

Banana fibre open-end spinning yarn

Description

Count (Ne)

100 per cent banana fibre yarn

8-21

70 per cent banana fibre 30 per cent combed cotton

16-30

50 per cent banana fibre 50 per cent combed cotton

16-30

30 per cent banana fibre 70 per cent combed cotton

16-30

70 per cent banana fibre 30 per cent modal

16-30

30 per cent banana fibre 30 per cent tencel

16-30

50 per cent banana fibre 50 per cent

16-30

 

 

Over the years

In the last decade, there has been revived interest in India, and now in China, to use banana fibre to make textiles. In the last few years, the Tiruchirappalli Regional Engineering College Science and Technology Entrepreneurs Park has been working in conjunction with the Indian government's Department of Agriculture, on a patented machine that can efficiently turn the stalks of banana plants into fibre suitable for textile manufacture. India will probably be the location where banana fibre textiles will make their first large public offering.

 

Unlike hemp or bamboo, the modern process of turning banana stalks into usable textile fibres requires no time-consuming bacterial retting process or any crushing or "scrutching" process (a mechanical operation which, by breaking and beating the retted material, separates out the textile fibres in the stem). So, harvesting banana fibre is relatively fast and not too labour intensive. Banana fibre can easily be sorted for thickness. The innermost stalk fibres are the softest and most pliable; the outer fibres are the thickest and strongest. The process of turning banana stalks into textiles is the opposite of the relatively slow and labour-intensive process of turning woody stalks of bamboo, hemp, or flax into fibres suitable for textiles.

 

In major banana-growing regions, discarded banana stalks sitting around every year are just waiting to be termed into useful textile. Until recently, there was no fast and efficient method of doing that. There's another big reason that banana fibres have not yet seen any large-scale application in the international textile industry: the ready availability of cheap, mass-produced cotton.

 

Now the question that arises is, can banana fibres be produced on a large scale and are the fibres an economically viable alternative to cotton?

 

Banana fibre textiles can definitely lessen the demand for cotton to a large extent. However, banana-fibre textiles are not able to completely replace cotton without creating severe environmental problems. Banana fibre and other fibre work well as a complementary fibre to cotton. A few manufacturers in India and China now incorporate banana fibre into cotton blend fabrics. The blending of cotton and banana fibre could lessen the demand for cotton cultivation.

 

India is the largest, and China is the second largest grower of bananas. The recent interest in turning banana stalks into textile fibre has been due partially to the need to process and make use of the huge amounts of agricultural waste products that are a by-product of growing banana. In both India and China, there is also a growing awareness of problems associated with large-scale cotton cultivation.

 

There is some good news concerning banana cultivation worldwide. There is rising consumer awareness in many places concerning labour disputes, political and environmental issues surrounding banana cultivation. Increasingly, there is an international effort to rotate bananas with other crops and to use organic growing methods. The history of labour practices and profit distribution related to banana cultivation has been contentious in Central America, but the same set of political controversies have not existed in other banana-growing places like India and China. There are also growing international efforts to ensure a better payment rate given to local banana producers in Fair Trade agreements.

 

As bananas are mostly grown in small family farms in India and in Caribbean, the use of chemical fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides on small farms is usually minimal.

 

Unlike banana cultivation on small family farms, large corporate plantations have a poor record concerning environmental impact and social responsibility. Corporate cultivation is basically a furious race to shore up the earnings from bananas. That involves a lot of chemical use in the growing process, which has greatly damaged the environment and caused terrible health problems for people living in places where large corporate-owned banana plantations exist.

 

Extraction of banana fibre

The process for making yarn from banana fibre varies from region to region. Most popular methods among these are in Japan and Nepal.

 

Japan

Cultivation of banana for clothing and other household uses in Japan dates back to the 13th century. Care is taken right from the stage of plant cultivation. The leaves and shoots are pruned periodically to ensure softness. Harvested shoots are boiled in lye to prepare the fibre for making the yarn. These banana shoots give fibre with varying degrees of softness. This further results in yarns and textiles with differing qualities that can be used for specific purposes. The outermost fibres of shoots are the most coarse. They are more suitable for making home furnishings like tablecloths.

 

The softest part is the innermost section that gives fibres widely used for making kimono and kamishimo, the traditional Japanese apparel. The banana cloth making process is a lengthy one and all the steps are performed by hand. The Japanese method was a traditional handicraft and not a large-scale undertaking. It involved a very labour-intensive process, requiring a lot of skill. The banana fibre required a high level of expertise to extract and weave. The fibre were painstakingly sorted and carded by hand without a bacterial retting process to soften up the stalks, or a scrutching either. The innermost fibres of banana stalks are already very soft and supple, thus making a retting process unnecessary.

 

Nepal

In Nepal, the trunk --- not the shoot --- is harvested. Small pieces of these trunks are put through a softening process for mechanical extraction of the fibres, and then bleaching and drying. The fibre obtained looks similar to silk which has become popular as banana silk fibre yarn. This fibre is refined, processed and skeined mostly by the women. Only the aged bark or the decaying outer layers of the banana plant are harvested and soaked in water to quicken the natural process. When all the chlorophyll is dissolved, only the cellulose fibres remain. They are extruded into pulp so that they may become suitable for spinning into yarn. The yarn is then hand-dyed. They have high textural quality similar to silk and are employed in making high end rugs. These traditional rugs are woven by hand-knotted methods again by the women.

 

In Nepal, a process involving both a bacterial retting and scrutching/crushing was used to make the extraction process faster and less labour intensive. The banana stalks were retted in the fields or in baths of water, similar to the process involved in the production of hemp or flax cloth. While this had the unfortunate result of the fabric being less exquisite than the fabric made by the Japanese method, it did make the fabric more available to the common person. Still, for reasons unknown, banana fibre fabric never caught on in a big way in Nepal.

 

India

India has the largest land under banana cultivation in the world followed by Brazil, contributing about 30 per cent of the total world production. Among the fruits, banana holds first position in production and productivity in India. Maharashtra is the leading banana producing state.

 

Banana fibre has an affinity to colours that makes it easier to weave attractive designs with it. The process maybe cumbersome but saris fabricated from this fibre are very comfortable and are in much demand.

 

These saris are very comfortable to wear and have a cooling effect. They are supplied to both national and international markets where there is good demand.

 

National Research Centre for Banana in Tamil Nadu is carrying out a study and if the proposition turns viable, the country can soon expect the domestic market to be flooded with an array of banana fibre textiles and garments.

 

Production capacity

One of the leading producers of banana fibres in India is Jalgaon Banana Fibre based in Maharashtra. It is an eco-friendly venture in the banana fibre industry intending to promote use of organic fibre in textile and paper industry as a cost-effective product. Based in Jalgaon district, Maharashtra, the largest land area under banana cultivation in India, they are manufacturers of the best quality banana fibres. The manufacturing plant is strategically located near banana cultivated land of thousands of acres with an annual capacity of over 150 tonnes of banana fibres.

 

They have tied up with several farmers from whom they procure good quality banana stems in advance. This has generated a source of additional income for farmers. The organic manure, made from banana stem, is provided to farmers to increase productivity and promote organic farming. The client is assured of timely delivery and good quality banana fibre.

 

Clients

Enquiries have come from Europe, South America and Asian countries. In India, enquiries have come in from reputed textile, paper, carpet and automobile companies.

 

Products

Organic banana fibre is used to make various eco-papers like tissue, filters and currency paper. Being natural, heat resistant, having good spinning ability and high tensile strength, it is used for making yarn, fabrics and garments. It can be blended with other fibres.

 

Eco-friendly bags are made from banana fibre. Banana fibre paper can be a substitute for polythene bags.

 

It has high nutrition content to nurture the growth of plant/crops. It increases production or yield and gives organic output, which is very beneficial.

 

Banana fibre cloth is eco-friendly. Clothes made from banana fibre have a silk-like feeling and do not require any chemicals to make.

 

Revolution in banana fibre industry

The banana fibre separator machine created this revolution. The separator is one of the innovative ventures incubated at TREC-STEP, India, which uses the agricultural waste of banana harvests to produce silk grade fibre for local handicrafts and textile industries. What was previously regarded as agricultural waste and a nuisance for farmers is now a raw material for good quality silk grade fibre yarn. TREC-STEP gives us an insight to this innovative venture.

 

The entrepreneur behind this venture, Mr. K. Murugan, a mechanical engineer by training, designed and produced the machine to extract valuable parts of the remaining pseudo stem of banana harvests into a commercially viable product.

 

He was originally attracted by the shiny texture of the banana fibre that was left over after harvesting and began to wonder whether a refined form of this could replace the rich silk fabric his mother often used. After many trials with a resourceful mechanic, he developed a crude machine for extracting banana fibre and ended up with products such as silk yarn and silk zari, new and unrivalled products on the market. It took nearly 12 years of study and research, and 40 trials with various extraction machine models, before Murugan and his colleague managed to produce a successful prototype and arrive at the current version of the banana fibre separator machine.

 

There are numerous potential clients for organic banana fabrics. The realisation of this client potential depends on the market penetration strategy. Presently there are huge exports potential and orders are available on hand.

 

Advantages of the machine over manual process

         Reduces drudgery

         Fifty times increase in fibre production compared to manual process

         User friendly and economic

         Less maintenance cost and safe to operate

         Clean work atmosphere

         30 kg of fibre production per day

         Superior quality fibre in terms of length and softness, strength & colour

 

Sanitary napkins from banana fibres

The International Institute for Environment and Development has even launched a programme to educate women in Rwanda in making low cost and environmentally friendly sanitary pads out of banana fibres.

 

 

1. Harvest banana fibre

Cut 1 to 1.5 meter long pieces of banana fibre from garden early in morning or late in evening when it is soft. If it is picked when it is too dry, it rips apart during preparation.

 

2. Clean fibre

Wipe the banana fibre with a damp cloth to remove dirt.

 

3. Straighten fibre

Hold fibre with one hand and with your other hand gently, but firmly, pull your palm along length of fibre from one end of fibre to the other.

4. Peel fibre

Carefully peel off waterproof layer from surface of fibre (the "Intestine layer") that will lie against the skin.

 

5. Cracked fibres

If the banana fibre cracks near the middle, it cannot be used. If it cracks near edge, tear off the cracked edge (as long as remaining width is sufficient for user.)

 

6. Fibre ready to use:

The banana fibre is ready for use once the waterproof layer that will lie against the skin is completely peeled off.

 

 

7. Use fibre:

Attach the fibre to belt made from leather, cloth or string in front of belly button, then bring fibre down and attach it to belt at the back. Banana fibre can be attached to belt by either rolling fibre around belt (see picture on left, below) or by tearing the ends of the fibre and tying the torn bits to belt (see picture on right, below). The natural sanitary napkin can be changed as needed.

 

8. Disposal of the used banana fibres

 

Get rid of used banana fibres by:

Use of banana fibre in Japanese yen notes

During research it was found that the paper made out of this fibre has a shelf life of over 100 years and it can be folded as many as 3,000 times. The fibre has the potential to find application in making of paper for printing currency.

 

Use of banana fibres in making tea bags

Tea bag paper is made primarily from abaca hemp, a product of a Philippine banana tree that is also known as Manila hemp. This is bleached and processed and then treated with a heat sealable thermoplastic such as PVC or polypropylene on the inside. Banana paper is much stronger than regular paper. It is used for cement bags to carry up to 25 kilograms, and other heavy duty bags. Since the tenacity of banana fibre is high, some automobile companies use it to reinforce the body of the vehicle.

 

Use of banana fibres in car tyres

The second-generation Mercedes-Benz A class designed the spare tyre recess covered with a composite material, polypropylene, thermoplastic with embedded banana fibres, with high tensile strength and rot resistance. It can withstand stone strikes and exposure to the environment, such as UV from the sun, water, some chemicals.

 

 

Drawbacks

There have been longstanding disputes in Central American banana-growing regions concerning the rights of workers to organise, and complaints about low wages, long working hours, and bad working conditions. There has been a long and troubled history of labour disputes between the local banana-plantation workers and the American corporations investing in the banana plantations. There have been contentious political issues concerning the flow of money from the profits of the banana sales. Like cotton, banana cultivation has been, and often still is, associated with one-product regional economies. The accusation against large American agricultural corporations doing business in Latin American banana-growing regions has been that they are not putting enough money back into the local economies.

 

- Intense cultivation of bananas in some places has created a one-crop local agricultural base. No crop rotation and intense cultivation leads to depletion of soil nutrients and a reliance on chemical fertilisers. Heavy use of chemical fertilisers leads to increased soil erosion and to polluted watersheds in those areas where chemical fertilisers are used.

 

- The need to cut down more tropical rain forests to increase banana cultivation has led to an effective worldwide halt to banana-plantation expansion. Now, the focus of the international banana-growing industry is on increasing the productivity of land already used for banana cultivation.

 

- The need for large numbers of people working a banana plantation creates a desire to keep wages as low as possible. Bananas still have to be cut by hand, and the heavy bunches of bananas often have to be carried a short distance by human labour.

 

However, these problems cannot take the shine out of the future of the banana plant.