Consumers are paying more and more attention to the impact of the product they use on the environment. In fact, you probably couldn’t go a single day without the three little letters “eco” crossing your path. Textile manufacturers, screen printers, custom decorators, and designers are all trying to provide non-caustic solutions for their consumers. This focus brings bamboo into question.
For quite some time, bamboo has been heralded as an eco-friendly fabric and for good reason. The plant itself is one of the fastest growing in the world - up to 45” per 24 hours. Bamboo can be selectively harvested every year after 7 years - that’s compared to at least 30 years for trees. Bamboo also regenerates on it’s own, without planting, helps migrate water and can survive long periods without. Bamboo is also known for it’s anti-fungal and anti-microbial qualities. Sounds like a utopian plant, right? It’s not quite that cut and dry.
The question of whether or not bamboo is actually environmentally friendly comes up when you look at the process used to manufacture it into a fabric. In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission issued a customer alert that fabrics claiming to be bamboo were actually rayon, and that the process to make the fabric used toxic chemicals that release pollutants into the air. The FTC claimed that it was the process used to make the silky fabric that was caustic, whether bamboo was the source or not. In 2010, the FTC issued warning letters to 78 retailers, including some pretty big names, stating that they were breaking the law by mislabeling garments as eco-friendly and bamboo, when they were actually rayon.
These allegations may have been true, but not all bamboo fabric is converted to rayon. Bamboo is not the silky smooth feeling garment you may have associated it with when it first became available; there is genuine bamboo fabric on the market. There is also information available from the Bureau of Consumer Protection to assist retailers in making sure that they textiles are labeled properly to avoid misconception.
Truly eco-friendly bamboo fabric is made from nano-particles of bamboo-charcoal. The process involves selecting 4-5 year old bamboo and dry heating it until it becomes bamboo charcoal. The bamboo charcoal is then made into fine nano-particles, which are then added to a number of substrates including cotton, polyester, or nylon fiber. The fiber is drawn into yarn and woven into fabric. The amount of bamboo charcoal eco fabric can vary from product to product. The amount of nano-particles incorporated in a fabric determines the degree of anti-microbial and anti-fungal qualities associated with the end fabric.
In conclusion, any manufacturer claiming to produce environmentally safe bamboo fabric must have scientific evidence and testing to justify the claim.