Due to its naturally renewing properties, Bamboo is a highly sustainable plant. It can grow to full size in just 3-4 months, compared to standard trees which can take 30+ years to grow.

Bamboo seems to good to be true, is it really the panacea?

Bamboo is a fast growing and a naturally renewable tree-like grass. It requires little maintenance to farm as it doesn’t need any pesticides or herbicides and very little water to grow.

Bamboo development reduces pollution; its plants reduce up to 35% carbon dioxide in the climate and deliver more oxygen.

Bamboo roots help control erosion as it makes a water barrier; developed countries use bamboo as a defensive component for their crops and villages from washing ceaselessly.

It has an astounding strength, it is even stronger than steel! and its lifespan whilst remaining light and easy to carry around. With proper care, your bamboo goodies can be used time and time again without the worry of them deteriorating.

Harvesting bamboo is good to offset carbon dioxyde.

One of the biggest environmental benefits of bamboo is its ability to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.

Compared to an equivalent tree mass, bamboo produces 35% more oxygen and research has shown that bamboo can absorb as much as 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year.

Harvesting more bamboo to the expense of other woods could reduce deforestation.

Bamboo grows insanely fast, sometimes at a rate of 3 feet (90cm) per day, depending on variety. To grow to full maturity only takes 1 to 5 years, again depending on variety. This is considerably faster than the fastest growing trees.

When harvested bamboo regrows from its own root system, it doesn’t need to be planted again. Not only is this great from a naturally renewable perspective, but this also means that the soil and roots aren’t disturbed which is great for soil health. 

While the bamboo plant only has shallow roots, they develop to create a fibrous network underground which helps to hold the soil together. By not disturbing the roots and soil between harvests, the soil and the micro-environment beneath the surface continue to develop and improve. 

Soil improvement helps with water absorption, as well as aiding in the prevention of soil erosion. Many areas where bamboo is grown are subject to heavy rain and monsoons during the wet season, and improved soil and healthy roots helps to minimise landslides.

The two big downsides to bamboo production.

The problem with bamboo is the way that it is typically farmed. Due to increasing popularity, large areas of land are being cleared to be planted with bamboo. This can lead to the displacement of wildlife and a decrease in the biodiversity of existing ecosystems.   When bamboo is planted as a crop it’s also often done so as a monoculture. This means only bamboo is planted and all other varieties are removed and this creates problems for fungi, bacteria, insects and other smaller animals who rely on a diverse ecosystem for nutrition and habitat. 

Naturally, this situation applies to any monoculture, not just bamboo. Similar concerns are raised over fields of avocado trees in South America, forests of eucalyptus trees in Portugal and plains of corn and soya in North America.

Currently, the only commercial scale production of bamboo takes place in China. This means the majority of bamboo products have been shipped from across the globe.

So, if one wanted to get it 100% right, one would have to be able to trace the production sites which in the current state is not easy as most is harvested in China, although this has now been recognised by the industry as a bad practice and Chinese growers also have started to manage it better.

The processes to create bamboo fabric is the most disputable derived product

There are several ways to turn bamboo into a fabric. The first process involves combing out the bamboo fibres and spinning these into thread. This results in a slightly coarse fabric that is usually called “bamboo linen”. Creating this “linen” is labour intensive and expensive and the result isn’t suitable for the soft, intimate products for which bamboo is most in demand.

The second and much more popular method is the process used to make the silky soft bamboo fabric you find in sheets, underwear, and more. This “bamboo rayon” is produced through a highly intensive chemical process, similar to the process used to turn wood chips into rayon. This is where the sustainability of bamboo gets a little… prickly. Rayon is essentially a raw material converted through a chemical process. The source of the cellulose can be cotton, wood, and yep, bamboo.

Bamboo rayon is most commonly made through what is known as the viscose process, which involves dissolving cellulose material (in this case, bamboo) in a chemical solution to produce a pulpy viscous substance. This is then pushed through a spinneret, and “spun” into the fibres that can then be made into threads and fabrics. The chemicals used in this process like caustic soda and carbon disulfide are highly toxic and a risk to human health. About 50% of hazardous waste from rayon production (including the bamboo variety) cannot be recaptured and reused, but that doesn’t mean they are being dumped directly into the environment. Thankfully, wet processors in the last three years have been made to revamp their practices and there has been a great deal of improvement in chemical management and waste treatment.

The resulting bamboo viscose fabric is highly breathable, and much stretchier than cotton, making it perfect for garments that sit close to the skin like underwear and socks. It’s also easy to weave into fabrics with high thread counts to create a thin yet strong material suitable for a wide range of uses, from dresses to sheets.

As a side note, sadly there is no conclusive evidence that many of the claimed qualities of bamboo, such as its antibacterial properties or UV resistance, are still present in the fibre after it has been put through such an intensive process.

It’s worth considering a similar fabric called lyocell (also known by the brand name TENCEL® Lyocell) which uses a closed-loop process to recapture and reuse 99% of the chemical solution. Tencel is often made from sustainably farmed eucalyptus trees, and the fabric was awarded the “European Award for the Environment” by the European Union. The lyocell process can also be used to create fabric from bamboo, and this fabric is branded Monocel®, so look out for this label on clothes, though very few brands are using it at this stage. It is worth noting that while the industry is pushing for more sustainable options like Tencel and Monocel, they still only make up a small portion of the fabric available on the market, so realistically we should be continuing to work with the viscose industry to improve standard practices since the chances are it will never be replaced completely.

At Maison Dôme, we are supplying Bamboo in its raw form, but will avoid selling textiles, as long as traceability is not fully transparent.


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