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Bamboo fabric eco friendly?

Source: TreeHugger is ten years old this August. We’re taking a look back at some of the changes that have happened in the green movement over the decade.

The pages of Treehugger used to be full of bamboo T-shirts, bamboo dresses, bamboo sheets. It was touted as environmental because bamboo grows quickly without pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. It sucks up a lot of CO2; One site noted that “Bamboo plantations are large factories for photosynthesis which reduces greenhouse gases. Bamboo plants absorb about 5 times the amount of carbon dioxide (a primary greenhouse gas) and produces about 35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees.”

The clothing was soft, easy to clean, cool and breathable. What could be greener? Is it Bamboo or 100% cotton? Nude Beach only makes cotton sarongs of the highest quality

It’s not bamboo, it’s viscose rayon, or that is what it should be called.

In fact, there wasn’t much that was green about bamboo fabric at all; it is simply viscose rayon, a fiber usually made from wood pulp using extremely toxic carbon disulphide to break it down into cellulose fibers. Substitute bamboo for wood pulp and you have the same end result: rayon.

By 2007 TreeHugger Warren was raising questions about it, writing:

The growing of bamboo is environmentally friendly but the manufacturing of bamboo into fabric raises environmental and health concerns because of the strong chemical solvents used to cook the bamboo plant into a viscose solution that is then reconstructed into cellulose fiber for weaving into yarn for fabric.

In 2009 the Federal Trade Commission came down hard on the bamboo clothing industry and noted:

Rayon is a man-made fiber created from the cellulose found in plants and trees and processed with a harsh chemical that releases hazardous air pollutants. Any plant or tree could be used as the cellulose source—including bamboo—but the fiber that is created is rayon.

lyocell process © Tencel

However not all rayon is created equal; Lyocell, or Tencel, is made in a closed-loop process using less toxic chemicals. Like conventional viscose, it can be made from any form of cellulose including bamboo.

Once the stuff had to be called “rayon made from bamboo” it didn’t sound quite so natural and green anymore and pretty much disappeared. If you see bamboo clothing, it might be spun directly from the fiber and described as bamboo linen; otherwise, unless you see the Lyocell or Tencel label, give it a pass.

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In one report, William Lana, chairman of the Textile Standards Committee of the Soil Association said:

“The marketing of ‘bamboo’ textiles is another example of ‘greenwash.’”

He further said:

“Bamboo viscose may be better for the environment than polyester, but even if bamboo is organically grown, we don’t allow bamboo textiles on the organic register because of the way it is processed.”

Even if you look for the Oeko-Tek certification that ensures that the bamboo product you buy is chemically-free, what it certifies is this:

There are no chemicals present in the product, at that point in the processing, that would be harmful to human health, including that of babies. It does not certify that no chemicals were used in the processing nor does it make any evaluation of what processes were used or any evaluation of the facilities that participated.”

And that is according to one site that sells bamboo products. (Does the last sentence sound a bit evasive and vague to you or is it just me?)

Laura Mathews of Eco Promotional Products, Inc, a company that sells environmentally responsible merchandise to businesses and consumers decided to ditch selling bamboo products altogether.

She said:

“It’s the responsibility of everyone to vet these and other similar terms to ensure that the eco-friendly product you’re putting your purchasing power behind is actually eco-friendly,” according to Natural Awakenings.

While wearing breathable clothing made of bamboo seems like a perfect combination of eco and chic, you might just have to lay low on the bamboo fabric and bamboo clothing radar for now.

Special Note:

I purchased bamboo bedding years ago and did research and lots of muscle-testing before purchasing. When I received my product, it wasn’t the one I had muscle-tested for. Long story short, I decided to keep it.

The worst happened after I used the sheets. I started having anaphylactic type reactions that I never had before, but was too sick to see the correlation. I couldn’t sleep on my bed and had to sleep on top of the toilet.

I consulted with Dr. Stephen Daniel. A 6-minute QT session revealed that the bedding had pesticide and herbicide residues that were causing the reactions. After washing the bedding in vegetable wash, I was able to sleep that night comfortably.

Before I knew about the intense chemical processing involved in bamboo fabric, I thought: How could my bedding have chemical residues on it when it was eco-friendly? Now I know. Trust your gut instinct. I would have returned the product like my gut instinct had told me. Again, long story.

Derek Taylor

Founder of Nude Beach Australia

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