Greengirlinc's Blog

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To Bamboo Or Not To Bamboo June 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tiffany C @ 8:22 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I find myself in a bit of a green quandary.  For years, I’ve thought of bamboo as a fairly eco-friendly fiber.  I have it on my floors, in my towels, in my sheets, and in my clothing.  It feels incredible.  I’d been told it had natural antibacterial properties.  As of late, I’ve read less and less glowing reviews.  The FTC has told four bamboo manufacturers to stop making these claims, and label their bamboo fiber textiles as “rayon made from bamboo”.  The process of making rayon is the same whether you start with birch trees or bamboo, and the process removes the distinctive properties that the fiber had before manufacturing.  Now, that said, creating rayon from bamboo instead of trees is more sustainable than from other sources because of the quick-growing nature of bamboo, and the amount of oxygen it creates while growing.  Bamboo also requires no pesticides or herbicides.    The rayon making process uses some toxic and caustic chemicals.  Pollutants are released into the air and water stream; a lot of energy and water is also used.  There is another fiber similar to rayon called Tencel.  Tencel is a closed-loop system that recycles the chemicals used in the manufacturing process.  As I write this, I have some conflict over what is the greenest thing to do.  Some of the opinions and information I’ve read  cited how awful caustic soda is. Caustic soda has been around for a long time and is used  in hundreds of products.  I also understand it is relatively easy to neutralize.

I think, at this point, organic cotton, and hemp are the greenest fabrics. Even more green, are second-hand and recycled content fabric.  Instead of spending money on paper towel replacement clothes, simply go to the second-hand store or thrift/garage/yard sale for used items that could serve as rags.  No, they won’t be as pretty as the new items, but they will be eco-friendly and inexpensive.  Currently, I think the jury is out on most bamboo textiles.  I believe if the processing of bamboo can be cleaned up, and greened up, it will be an excellent eco-choice.

Info on bamboo and more:

FTC – Have You Been Bamboozled by Bamboo Fabrics

Wisegeek: What is lyocell

Sodium Hydroxide

Bamboo: Processing Considerations

Carbon Disulfide



2 Responses to “To Bamboo Or Not To Bamboo”

  1. In researching materials to use in a product I’m working on developing, one of the first things I discovered is that it’s a challenge to determine what the “greenest” materials are.

    I agree that for the individual consumer, re-using existing textiles is the greenest choice.

    But for manufacturers, it’s not always easy to find a reliable, scalable source of used textiles. There are companies doing this well, and I’d love to see more.

    Upcycling is a very green alternative; Terracycle is a wonderful example of this:

    When it comes to organic cotton vs. bamboo, there are other factors in play as well: the land used to grow the organic cotton or bamboo, the amount of water used to grow the crops (bamboo would “win” in both of those categories), the labor used to grow and harvest the crops, the manufacturing process used to turn the crops into textiles (there are closed-loop bamboo textile manufacturers who use fewer and less-toxic chemicals), and again, the conditions of the laborers who work in their production.

    It’s not an easy answer, and I’m glad you’ve brought up the issue to debate.

    Andrea J. Phillips

  2. greengirlinc Says:

    Thank-you, Andrea. Yes, it is a complicated issue that one could write pages and pages about. I also believe some serious lifecycle assessments need to be done for all textiles, especially ones promoting their greenness. You are also correct when you state that manufacturers need more reliable used textiles. I love Terracycle, and I’m one of their cork brigaders. Thank-you again for taking the time to leave a comment.

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