Is bamboo fabric as eco-friendly as marketers claim?
The short answer is that there is no short answer. There are upsides and downsides to bamboo fabric, and I think it’s really up to you as a crafter to decide if bamboo fits into your eco-crafting ethos. My pops always tells me to give the bad news first and the good news last, so let’s start with bamboo’s downsides and then look at what’s good about bamboo fabric.
The major problem with bamboo fiber is the chemical processing that’s involved. It’s basically rayon, but with bamboo as a base instead of petroleum products. In fact, companies are now required to refer to bamboo fabric as “rayon from bamboo.” To make rayon from bamboo, they basically mash up the plant and then cook it in a chemical slurry including sodium hydroxide (aka lye) and carbon disulfide.
Carbon disulfide is nasty stuff, especially if you work around it day in and day out. Even low levels of carbon disulfide can cause fatigue, headaches, and nerve damage for workers in rayon manufacturing facilities (source).
One of bamboo’s upsides, which we’ll talk about later is that it’s a fast-growing, renewable resource, but unfortunately even this fast-growing plant can’t keep up with demand. Because of “overharvesting,” many species of bamboo are facing extinction.
Bamboo is not looking so hot, but don’t pass judgement just yet! There are some upsides to bamboo fabric.
When it comes to growing bamboo, it has a lot in common with my favorite eco-fiber: hemp. It doesn’t need a lot of pesticides or ferilizers to grow and uses little water. Also like hemp, it improves the soil where you plant it. Bamboo is also great at eating C02 and actually absorbes more greenhouse gases than some types of timber trees.
Bamboo is actually not a tree, it’s a grass. Like hemp, it does not require harsh chemical pesticides and fertilizers and it actually helps improve the soil where it’s grown! It requires very little water to grow and absorbs more greenhouse gases than some types of timber trees.
There is a less chemically-intensive way to produce bamboo fabric. Bamboo that’s labeled Tencel or lyocell uses a closed loop system and more benign chemicals than other bamboo fabrics. “Closed loop” means that rather than toss the waste from the production, they reuse over 99 percent of the chemical waste to make the next round of bamboo fabric.
Is Bamboo an Eco-Friendly Fabric?
It’s a complicated question, and I think it depends on what you’re using bamboo to replace. If you could use something like organic cotton or organic hemp, bamboo is definitely not the greener choice. If your options are bamboo, conventional cotton, or rayon bamboo definitely comes out ahead.
So, what do you guys think? Is bamboo a green fabric?
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Joi
Hi there! My name is Becky Striepe (pronounced “stree-pee,” like “sleepy”), and I am a freelance writer and vegan crafter living in Atlanta, Georgia. My life’s mission is to make green crafting and vegan food accessible to everyone! Check out my new book: 40 Days of Green Smoothies!