Don't Get Bamboozled by Bamboo

Posted on by Steve Stillwater

Green living is supported by your actions. Saving energy and conserving water and other natural resources are key parts of a greener lifestyle. Another important contribution to going green comes from the items you buy. Organic foods, chemical-free fertilizers and low-VOC paints are all considered green products. Bamboo is another material frequently found on lists of green products. As a green, renewable building material, bamboo has major advantages. It grows very quickly and can be harvested in 5 to 6 years. Compared to a hardwood tree, which may take 50-100 years to mature, bamboo provides 10 to 20 times as much building material in the same amount of time. Bamboo is surprisingly durable, as well. Bamboo also does not need to be replanted when cut, as it naturally grows back. For these reasons, bamboo has been used increasingly as a material for flooring and paneling. For these uses, bamboo is an excellent renewable raw material. But be careful about letting clever marketers oversell you on the benefits of bamboo as a green raw material. More recently, textiles produced from bamboo are entering the market. You can find bamboo sheets and pillowcases, bamboo towels, and even bamboo underwear. Bamboo has a natural anti-bacterial property, as well. All this may sound great - having linens and clothing made from a plant such as bamboo - but there is a big problem. To be turned into a textile, bamboo must be cooked in strong chemical solutions and turned into viscose, which is then reconstructed into fibers for weaving. This chemical cooking process requires a lot of energy and chemicals. Even worse, the treatment is so harsh that it removes the anti-bacterial benefit of bamboo. After treatment for spinning into textile fibers, bamboo is no different than rayon. Rayon is a man-made fiber created from the cellulose found in plants and trees. It is processed and heated with a harsh chemical treatment. Any plant or tree could be used as the cellulose source, including bamboo. However, the product that is created is rayon, and that rayon is indistinguishable whether it came from bamboo or any other cellulose source. The FTC has recognized this deceptive advertising and has announced that bamboo-derived textiles are so heavily treated that any trace of the distinctive nature of bamboo fiber has been eliminated, making the material rayon, not bamboo. What alternatives are available for eco-friendly sheets and textiles? Organic cotton, which admittedly does not sound as novel as bamboo, is probably a better choice.