Bamboo fabric is considered to be a more sustainable alternative to cotton in the fashion industry. Fabric made using bamboo has a beautifully soft feel and has even been compared to the softness of silk. With bamboo clothing on the rise, including brands that predominantly use the material, such as BAM, how sustainable actually is bamboo fabric?
When compared with cotton, bamboo fabric triumphs in more ways than one. Bamboo requires 1/3 the amount of water that cotton does. For one pound of fabric, bamboo uses around 12 gallons of water. The bamboo plants themselves absorb five times more carbon dioxide than similar plants. From a climate change perspective, cultivating land for bamboo plants has positive impacts on the biosphere.
Bamboo is considered to be a self planting resource as it rarely requires replanting. If bamboo is able to regenerate, then using the bamboo plants to create fabric could be a sustainable alternative for the future. Furthermore, in theory, bamboo doesn’t require polluting pesticides or herbicides. However, it’s important to remember that just because the crop doesn’t require them, it doesn’t meant that they aren’t being used.
The most common form of bamboo on the market is bamboo raylon. This is where bamboo fabric harbours unsustainable practices. In order to create the super-soft bamboo fabric, there is an intense chemical process. This usually involves dissolving cellulose into water and at the end of this process, 50% of the hazardous waste is dumped back into the earth.
While the manufacturing process for bamboo raylon requires harsh chemicals, the production of lyocell bamboo is less chemical intensive. Lyocell bamboo produces less waste and has a decomposition rate of 8 days. Despite this, lyocell bamboo can be challenging to find, as bamboo Braylon dominates the market.
While bamboo fabric has its environmental benefits, from using less water to requiring fewer pesticides, the manufacturing process of bamboo raylon is dirtier than you would expect. As a consumer, it’s important to be aware of this and search for brands that are transparent about how their bamboo fabric is made.