Whatever happened to: bamboo clothing?
TreeHugger is ten years old this August. We're taking a look back at some of the changes that have happened in the green movement over the decade.
The pages of Treehugger used to be full of bamboo T-shirts, bamboo dresses, bamboo sheets. It was touted as environmental because bamboo grows quickly without pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. It sucks up a lot of CO2; One site noted that "Bamboo plantations are large factories for photosynthesis which reduces greenhouse gases. Bamboo plants absorb about 5 times the amount of carbon dioxide (a primary greenhouse gas) and produces about 35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees."
The clothing was soft, easy to clean, cool and breathable. What could be greener?
It's not bamboo, it's viscose rayon
In fact, there wasn't much that was green about bamboo fabric at all; it is simply viscose rayon, a fiber usually made from wood pulp using extremely toxic carbon disulphide to break it down into cellulose fibers. Substitute bamboo for wood pulp and you have the same end result: rayon. By 2007 TreeHugger Warren was raising questions about it, writing:
The growing of bamboo is environmentally friendly but the manufacturing of bamboo into fabric raises environmental and health concerns because of the strong chemical solvents used to cook the bamboo plant into a viscose solution that is then reconstructed into cellulose fiber for weaving into yarn for fabric.
In 2009 the Federal Trade Commission came down hard on the bamboo clothing industry and noted:
Rayon is a man-made fiber created from the cellulose found in plants and trees and processed with a harsh chemical that releases hazardous air pollutants. Any plant or tree could be used as the cellulose source—including bamboo—but the fiber that is created is rayon.
However not all rayon is created equal; Lyocell, or Tencel, is made in a closed-loop process using less toxic chemicals. Like conventional viscose, it can be made from any form of cellulose including bamboo. Lululemon got into some trouble for adding seaweed into the mix; not surprisingly, when their clothing was examined by the New York Times, they couldn't find any seaweed in it because it is all turned into the same thing: Rayon. It would be pretty hard to determinewhat was in the final product because it is all cooked down to cellulose.
Once the stuff had to be called "rayon made from bamboo" it didn't sound quite so natural and green anymore and pretty much disappeared. If you see bamboo clothing, it might be spun directly from the fiber and described as bamboo linen; otherwise, unless you see the Lyocell or Tencel label, give it a pass.