I keep hearing how wonderful bamboo clothing and towels are, but have always had reservations about the processes the raw material goes through to become a fabric.
I see some of the products labelled as ‘Organic’ and wonder about it, so here are some facts to consider.
Bamboo as a plant can be organically certified, but the fabric produced from it rarely is (even though the socks or t-shirt you buy may claim to be made from organic bamboo).
True bamboo fabric can be made from the fibres of the plant (known as Bast fibres), however, the vast majority of bamboo fabric you see will have been made by a chemical process, the same way as Rayon or Viscose.
According to the Federal Trade Commission bamboo fabric “typically is made using environmentally toxic chemicals in a process – known as the viscose process – that emits hazardous pollutants into the air. While different plants, including bamboo, can be used as a source material to create rayon, there’s no trace of the original plant in the finished rayon product.” Have a look here for a wonderful – and comprehensive description of this process.
The magazine Ethical Consumer has also recently written about bamboo and you can see that article in issue EC134 Jan/Feb 2012*.
In the USA, the Federal Trade Commission has ruled that the viscose and rayon made from bamboo can NOT be described as ‘bamboo’. We just need the UK and EU to follow their lead, at present neither the Soil Association nor the Global Organic Trading Standards certify the fabric as it is almost all rayon.
So, do I want a pair of soft comfortable socks made using toxic chemicals? Or should I continue to support small farmers making a product from natural textiles. I think I will stick to the natural fibre options of organic cotton and wool and forego the option of rayon bamboo.
What choice will you make?
Thanks for reading / Rick
* If you would like to learn more about buying clothing ethically, check out their buyers guide