Image via Textile School
The issue with bamboo
For bamboo to be turned into a bamboo viscose, cellulose is extracted from the plant through the use of harsh chemicals. It is then fed through a spinneret so the strands can solidify to make a fiber. Among the chemicals used in this process are sodium hydroxide, sulfuric acid, and carbon disulfide. These chemicals are incredibly harmful to living creatures and the environment. The use of the chemicals in factories affects factory workers, pollutes the air, and infects nearby water systems. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t warrant this just so I could have plush bamboo underwear!
To make things worse, depending on the factory, chemicals such as carbon di-sulfate and zinc sulfate are released as bi-products during the viscose process. Both these chemicals are highly toxic to water-based organisms. If the chemicals are not disposed of as hazardous waste, they’re washed away into water systems.
Bamboo is generally grown and harvested in mono plantations. Mono plantations mean only one type of plant, bamboo in the case, is planted in one area. Often forests and established ecosystems are removed to make way for mono plantations, and biodiversity is decreased. Plantlife, animals, insects, and the general ecosystem become more susceptible to disease, have access to less food, and the environment is usually stark and barren.
The bamboo is produced in a closed-loop system. Is that okay?
Unfortunately, even when bamboo fabric is produced in a closed-loop system, there will always be toxic waste. If the company is able to provide evidence that the toxic waste is disposed of responsibly, that is great. If they blatantly deny that any waste is produced and claim to be 100% closed loop, that is really suspicious. I would personally walk away.
But my bamboo clothes are OEKOTEX Standard approved!
The OEKOTEX Standard is good for our bodies as it ensures there are no chemicals left in the garment when complete, and therefore no chemicals come into contact with our skin when we wear the clothes. Yet, OEKOTEX does not refer to the chemicals used during the production process or ensures they were disposed of responsibly. In a nutshell, OEKOTEX ensures clothes are safe for the humans who wear them, but not for the environment or anyone else involved in the making of the garment.
For now, we can choose bamboo linen when possible, and ask brands using bamboo TENCEL about their water treatment, hazardous waste facilities, and plantations.
This bamboo investigation has taught me that are endless layers to everything, the landscape is constantly changing and it’s almost impossible to keep up. Regardless of the complexity, it is so important to understand our clothes from seed to garment; staying ignorant isn’t an option anymore. Shop wisely.