Bamboo-based fabrics have sparked controversy among environmentalists. There is disagreement as to whether they are ecological textiles or not. Let’s explore why the potential impact of bamboo textiles on the environment raises this debate.
A durable raw material
Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants and is considered invasive. It, therefore, has a tendency to over-develop itself. The trunk of the bamboo plant contains antibacterial substances that allow it to defend itself against insects and fungi. This is why bamboo does not need pesticides to ensure good growth. In addition, bamboo requires 4 times less water than cotton. Bamboo forests absorb up to 30% more CO2 and release up to 30% more oxygen than other types of forest. Its yield per hectare is among the highest, although it takes 3-5 years to reach maturity. Thanks to its vegetable origin, its fiber is biodegradable.
For all these reasons, the raw material associated with bamboo textiles is considered environmentally friendly and sustainable. This plant does not have the capacity to grow in our climate and comes mainly from China.
Like all forests, harvesting bamboo means that it does not escape deforestation. The United Nations raised a red flag on this issue in 2004 and since then several studies and more or less effective recovery actions have been carried out.
There are two types of textiles made from bamboo. The first is called bamboo linen and the second is called rayon, viscose or modal bamboo.
This type of textile is converted into a chemical-free yarn. A mechanical process similar to that used to weave linen is put forward. The plant is first milled and then pulped using natural enzymes. The fiber is finally combed and then spun. As this process is mechanical and natural, it is considered to be 100% ecological. However, this textile is still very rare and because of its rarity, it is very expensive, making it a luxury product.
Rayon, viscose or modal bamboo
This second technique is by far the most popular. However, it requires the use of chemicals.
The chemicals used are soda ash, hydrogen sulfide or carbon disulfide. Its transformation process makes this textile considered as semi-synthetic. It is by far the most accessible bamboo textile on the market. In addition, Mistra Future Fashion, a Swedish organization explains that when bamboo is subjected to a process of rayon, the textile loses its antibacterial properties.
Comparison with cotton
First, unlike bamboo, traditional cotton requires a tremendous amount of water, cropland, and pesticides. In the United States, the largest cotton exporter in the world, cotton cultivation accounts for almost a quarter of national pesticide use. Once harvested, the fibers are washed and bleached with chlorine which also has adverse effects on the environment.
A study on the physical characteristics of bamboo was undertaken by two Indian researchers: Ajay Rathod and Avinash Kolhatkar. Their research compared a 100% bamboo textile and another 50% bamboo / 50% cotton blended textile. The results of their research show that the 100% bamboo fabric has a significantly higher overall strength (breakage, tearing and wear) than the bamboo-cotton fabric.
Rathod and Kolhatkar also cited another study by 2011, stating that the bamboo textile has a more elastic fiber and less plush. It also has high absorption and requires less dye than cotton fabrics to be dyed to the desired level. They absorb better and faster dyes to achieve the desired results.
We consider that although imperfect, bamboo textile (flax or rayon) certainly has less impact than cotton or oil-based polyester textiles.
We have seen that at the base bamboo textile comes from an ecological and sustainable raw material. We now know that there is an opportunity to turn this raw material into an almost perfectly ecological textile. However, the most traded bamboo textiles undergo chemical treatment. On the other hand, although imperfect, we consider that it is very favorable to dress in clothes from bamboo rayon than from cotton clothes that are both more polluting and less resistant. We also consider that bamboo textiles are much more environmentally friendly than polyester made from petroleum and that bamboo clothing meets several characteristics of the ecological textile sought and consider it as such.