Over the past few years Bamboo has gained increasing attending, deeming it to be ‘the most sustainable material’. Why?
There are over 1,000 species of bamboo. It is able to thrive in a variety of different habitats and is therefore found all over the world (3).
Bamboo as a Textile
A common application for bamboo is as a textile that can be used for clothing, linens and other fabrics. There has been discrepancy as to whether it is truly a sustainable material and this comes down to how it is processed into textiles (4). Heavy, often toxic, chemicals are required to transform the plant into fabric.
There are two ways of processing the plant into fabric (5):
It is in the chemical manufacturing of bamboo that its sustainability comes into question. Bamboo rayon is made through the viscose process where toxic chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulphide, are used to break down the cellulose in bamboo. This produces a pulpy viscose substance that can then be spun into yarn and turned into fabrics. These chemicals can be harmful to human health and are both linked to cases of tiredness, nerve damage and headaches. It is estimated that around half of the waste from this production process cannot be recaptured and thus is released into the environment.
The Lyocell Process
There are other ways to chemically manufacture bamboo that are less environmentally damaging. The lyocell process, which is used to produce lyocell (TENCELÒ) from Eucalyptus cellulose, can be modified to use bamboo cellulose (6). This is a closed-loop process whereby a non-toxic chemical solution, N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide (amine oxide), is used to break down the cellulose - 99% of this solution can be recaptured and reused. TENCELÒ is becoming more popular and is now being used by some high street brands.
The lyocell process is a much better alternative to traditional chemical processing as the amine oxide is not harmful to human health.
Bamboo gains its title as the most sustainable material due to its abilities to fix CO2 from the atmosphere and grow almost anywhere, rapidly. Sadly, most bamboo items on the market are bamboo rayon. Lyocell is a more sustainable alternative with a much less damaging environmental impact but it is difficult to find lyocell products made from bamboo.