Thought Bamboo Fabric Eco-Friendly? Think Again.
by Larry K. Fried
Until recently I thought bamboo cloth was about as eco-friendly as you can get. Be it used in clothing, towels or linens, if the label said, “Made from Bamboo,” all my happy green buttons lit up. Bamboo is not a tree, but probably the fastest growing grass, growing as much as a yard a day. It matures for harvest in about 4 years, and bamboo thrives growing organically. As a sustainable and easily renewable resource, one would be hard pressed to name anything better than bamboo.
The problem lies in how bamboo is turned into fiber. This is where its seems to lose all shades of green. The process generally used to make bamboo viscose is chemically-intensive using very toxic substances, much of which find their way into the waste stream. The leaves and woody stems are first “cooked” in solvents such as sodium hydroxide (also known as lye or caustic soda) and carbon disulfide, both of which have been linked to serious health issues. The process is so similar to making rayon, that in 2010 the FTC issued a warning to 78 retailers. They said that most products labeled “made from Bamboo” are actually rayon – a man-made product, and should be labeled as such. In 2009 the FTC accused four sellers of bamboo-based fibered clothing of “bamboo-zling consumers.” Three of the four agreed to re-label their products “Rayon made from Bamboo” or something similar.
The good news is that some manufacturers are developing or are currently using processes that are much less impactful and retain more of the natural integrity of the bamboo fiber. Still, at this point it is buyer beware. That green bamboo T-shirt is more likely black.
This article is a sidebar to our article on ecofashion CARE ABOUT WHAT YOU WEAR.