In the last few years, bamboo has become an extremely popular product in the textile industry. On its rise to popularity, the FTC decided to issue a blanket statement and subsequent fines for many companies marketing bamboo as pure bamboo and organic. They cited such marketing as deceitful and labeled bamboo textiles as a pollutant heavy product.
Well just how much pollution do bamboo textiles cause? When bamboo is made into bamboo rayon, it goes through 2 chemical baths. The first is a sodium hydroxide bath, which is used to break down the woody pulp and extract the cellulose. This is the exact same process done for cotton and almost any textile. However, caustic soda, or lye, is the chemical used in making soap. It can easily be neutralized with an acid and yield salt water – harmless. The second chemical bath yields hydrogen sulfide into the air, which is the same output seen in volcanic gas, natural gas, and in swamps and bogs. While this is indeed a pollutant, it can be neutralized with water and baking soda. Other scientific studies have been done in order to find new ways to extract or dissolve pollutants from bamboo rayon effluent. These solutions will grow ever more efficient as scientist find more reasons to study bamboo production processes.
Compared to bamboo, cotton is one of the dirtiest crops in the world. Chemicals used in cotton are more abundant than most plants. Cotton growing utilizes an absurd percentage of the world’s annual pesticide and herbicide supply. Adding in the textile production process, cotton uses even more chemicals, making its grand total: too many!
Bamboo’s growth process is remarkably clean. It requires little water and no pesticides or herbicides to grow. Bamboo stands out as one of the most renewable and sustainable crops on the planet. Bamboo is technically a grass, and as it is harvested, it is cut as grass would be. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world – some species can grow up to a meter per day. Bamboo can around 20 times faster than trees, reaching maturity in just 3-5 years. It grows densely, and can produce around 12 times more timber per acre than trees. It also produces up to 35% oxygen than trees as it processes carbon dioxide extremely efficiently.
Overall, the main reason bamboo is such an important option for the world’s textile supply is that it means more of the earth can be covered with bamboo. The planet needs a lot more vegetation as its forests are being continually depleted. Where cotton does little for the environment, bamboo has plenty to offer. Does bamboo yield some pollutants – yes (as does any textile process). Does it yield less than cotton? A lot less. Does bamboo positively affect the environment? Greatly.
The next time you are faced with a reason to buy textiles, be it clothing or bedding, choose bamboo clothing or bamboo bedding. As consumers demand more bamboo, it will quickly be grown on a larger scale, and its benefits will continually compound.