Bamboo is known as the fastest-growing woody plant in the world: technically a grass and not a tree, some types of this plant are capable of growing up to four feet a day.
With more than a thousand species and multiple uses from flooring to panda food, bamboo has finally spread to textiles.
A process similar to what transforms wood pulp into rayon turns tough stems into a fabric that quickly became an easy favorite for environmentally-conscious consumers.
What makes this plant very attractive is that most of it is grown organically:
- it does not require irrigation or fertilizers in many part of the world.
Sustainability of bamboo
But is this plant a sustainable textile? If the growing can be considered sustainable, there are some more controversial issues regarding fabric made from this plant..
Let’s start by saying that most bamboo fabric in the market can be compared to rayon: its silky, smooth feel is very similar because that’s in a nushell what it is.
Although there is more than one way to make rayon, the most common processes require the use of harmful chemical solvents which are necessary to make viscose from raw bamboo material.
This is called the viscose process: raw bamboo is dissolved in a strong chemical solvent to make a viscous, dense solution that finally solidifies into fiber.
ALTERNATIVES TO BAMBOO RAYON
There are many ways to obtain fiber from this plant apart the viscose process.
The textile will not have the same smooth and silky feel, but the process is way more environmentally-friendly.
Tencel, also known as lyocell, for example, is a regenerated cellulose fiber. Processed with a non-toxic spinning solvent in a closed-loop environment, making it not dangerous for both workers and the environment.
The judgement on the environmental record of this fabric is by no means easy.
However, based on the best research we could access, textiles made with this plant clearly have an edge as far as sustainability is concerned.
There are evidently some issues concerning the techniques that are used to produce bamboo textiles.
Since these techniques are inspired by existing technologies, the drawbacks of this fabric are those inherent in the industry and could be addressed with state of the art technologies and know-how.
Is this fabric going to compete with King Cotton any time soon?
Difficult to say, but the availability of cotton is making relatively unattractive to invest in bamboo textiles on an industrial scale.
We do not know if things will change in the near future, but the sustainability of bamboo as a resource makes it a scenario we hope will materialize.
- 10 amazing and inspiring bamboo house