Are Bamboo clothes sustainable?

There are well-known problems with synthetic materials such as polyester, which are essentially a form of plastic.  These have a high carbon footprint, release microplastics when washed and are not biodegradable.  Lots of reasons not to love it!  Clothing brands are looking to alternative fabrics as a way of reducing their environmental impact.  This is the first in a series of short blog posts I’ll do examining different fabrics. 

One novel material is bamboo.  I got some bamboo pyjamas for Christmas which state they are ‘climate positive’.  Photo evidence:

Claims in favour of bamboo are that it’s fast-growing; it requires much, much less water than alternative crops; it doesn’t need pesticides (as it’s naturally pest-resistant).  This is all in contrast to cotton, which requires a really quite incredible amount of water, and is typically laden with polluting pesticides.  So, there are several points in bamboo’s favour.

An article published in the journal Current Science states that bamboo could help address climate change, as the plant offers one of the quickest ways to remove vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.   This is precisely what we need to reduce global warming.  Two thirds of the carbon is stored in the soil and root system which – unlike trees and cotton – isn’t dug up when the bamboo is harvested so the carbon stays in the ground.

But (you knew there was going to be a but), the process of turning bamboo into fabric can be highly polluting.  Often, this involves dissolving bamboo in a chemical solution before spinning it to make fibres.  Chemicals used in this process, such as caustic soda and carbon disulphide, are often highly toxic.   Reputable producers of bamboo have robust chemical management and waste treatment processes to address this: Bam, the brand responsible for my PJs, work closely with suppliers to ensure that fibre production is done in a responsible way (scroll down to ‘Fibre Production’).  Here’s another example from a brand

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

The Guardian reported that there may be problems with the production of bamboo.  The problem is that once something becomes big business – as bamboo has – its production tends to intensify in response to increased demand.   This can lead to environmentally damaging practices, such as extensive land-clearing to make way for bamboo plantations or pesticide use.  However, the evidence is that this is far less widespread in the case of bamboo than other materials.  And environmentally-aware brands are careful to avoid these problems in their manufacturing processes.  It’s always worth checking individual brands’ sustainability policies specifically how the bamboo is processed, but overall, there are many reasons to prefer bamboo to most other materials. 

Thanks for reading

Jen

About the author:

I have a qualification in Sustainable Business Management from Cambridge University’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership. My project on the course focused on sustainability in fashion.

I am currently a candidate for a Master of Science degree in Environment and Sustainability with the University of London. My dissertation addresses sustainability in fashion.

I am a recovering shopaholic.

#ethicalfashion #sustainblewardrobe #sustainability #fashionblog #bamboo

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