Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How Natural Is The Bamboo Fiber Anyway?

I keep hearing these days that I should use textiles made of bamboo fibers because is environmental friendly and the bamboo is a natural fiber. “Made of bamboo” is a mainstream buzz-word these days as is preferred among fashion designers in the race of becoming greener. For me - truly natural fibers are cotton, wool, hemp and linen. (and they are the most used as well, for now).

Well… I am tempted to call this another green-washing trend. Environmentally friendly on one segment of the crop-to-store does not mean that is healthy for people as well. Of course the bamboo itself is natural, is renewable, but the natural part of it is destroyed by the caustic soda and other chemicals used in the process of transformation from wood to fiber. (Before you jump in defense of all things natural, consider this: the asbestos fiber is natural as well and it is already proven that it produces cancer; naturally occurring is not the litmus test for healthy.) . So, not everything that is natural is good for our health.

The argument of “natural” fiber should not fool us. The bamboo is environmentally friendly because is growing fast and therefore, it can be produced on a large scale which reduces the cutting number of other trees. Also, does not require pesticides and fertilizers. The wood is beautiful, and they make lots of uses from it - hardwood floor, plywood for various uses (some processes may use the chemical known as formaldehyde but they make it without too). There are voices that even criticize the bamboo farms: there are few examples of sustainable bamboo farming, because bamboo farms are mono-cultures and do not maintain biodiversity.

But when it comes to clothes the bamboo fibers are becoming rayon – which is very similar to the synthetic fiber except the cellulose is extracted from bamboo. There are too many chemicals involved in the process and they pose health risks. And this should be the most important issue when choosing clothes or other textiles made from bamboo fibers.

The fiber is well known for its soft feel and natural antibacterial properties. It looks to me like other synthetic fibers rather than natural. Searching on the web, I found a very detailed description of the process of transforming the bamboo into the so-claimed “natural fiber” and I think is worth reading it.


Anonymous said...

The processes you criticize are also used on cotton and many other fibers. There are two different ways of processing bamboo, and the one they label organic has only been processed by steam. Another plus side to bamboo is it isn't nearly as hard on the land as cotton is. There isn't a need for pesticides, and the bamboo doesn't deplete the nutrients the way cotton does. Although it has a long way to go to be perfect, bamboo is probably better for the earth than cotton.

Lucia said...


thanks for visiting the blog and thank you for you comment. I agree completely with you but when it comes to my own health I tend to incline toward those things that seem to be healthier...while trying to do something good for the Earth as well.

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