In the guide below though, we look at how sustainable and eco friendly Bamboo might be according to different sustainability measures.
Summary – How Sustainable & Eco Friendly Is Bamboo For Clothing, Fabric & Textiles?
Sustainability & Eco Friendliness
– Potential Benefits
Is natural, and renewable as a cellulose source
The growing phase of bamboo has potential to be reasonably sustainable and eco friendly overall
Has a fast growth rate, and good yields
Is a perennial, and cut be cut as the base of the stem, meaning that compared to other crops that need to be completely be removed from the soil and resown, bamboo doesn’t need to break up the soil as much
May have other soil health benefits that help either restore or maintain soil health
Can make use of land that other crops may not be able to make use of, and can be land efficient compared to other crops
May be able to be grown on rainfall and little irrigated water in some instances
Can in some instances be grown with little to no pesticides and herbicides (in part because bamboo has it’s own natural anti bacterial agent, called bamboo kun, that fights pest and fungi infestation)
Can in some instances be grown with little to no synthetic fertilizers
Can be carbon neutral in some instances, and can have a lower carbon footprint than synthetic fibres across some measures (Moso bamboo in particular may have good carbon sequestration abilities)
Bamboo fibre production can involve mechanical processes (in a similar way that flax or linen does) in place of some chemical processes, which can improve sustainability and eco friendliness
Might be biodegradable if processed mechanically
The production phase using the lyocell process for bamboo rayon may be slightly more eco friendly and sustainable than using the viscose process.
Closed loop production for bamboo production may also be more sustainable and eco friendly
There’s other technology and methods that can help improve sustainability and eco friendliness of bamboo fibre at the production stage
Does currently have at least some certifications available for bamboo fibre products – mainly the FSC certification for sustainably managed bamboo forests/plantations
May compare favorably to other fibre crops like cotton across several environmental and sustainability indicators, such as yield, irrigated water, pesticide use, fertilizer use, land use, and other indicators
May compare favorably to trees/wood as a cellulose source for fibres across several environmental and sustainability indicators, such as speed of growth, oxygen production and carbon absorption, water use efficiency, and other indicators
May compare favorably to other fibres like cotton, modal and wood viscose in terms of absorption of dyestuffs
– Potential Drawbacks
The production and processing phase of bamboo rayon, particularly using the viscose process, can use a range of potentially harmful or toxic chemicals, solvents and other substances, which can be exposed to production workers, and also contribute to environmental pollution
Some of the more eco friendly and sustainable bamboo fibre production methods and options may be more expensive and/or more labor intensive
May sometimes still use pesticides (in part to help increase yields and production, but also because pathogen problems can still exist in some places)
May sometimes still use synthetic fertilizers (in part to help increase yields and production)
May sometimes still use a reasonable amount of irrigated water (in part to help increase yields and production)
Currently doesn’t have an established or developed organic certification scheme/standard in same the same way that organic cotton does with GOTS certification (for more of a guarantee and transparency on the standard to which the bamboo is produced). So, consumers should be aware of the labelling for bamboo that mentions the word organic anywhere when it comes to bamboo. Elkie Ark has a good article about transparency in what ‘organic bamboo’ might actually involve
A lot of bamboo is grown in China. Not only can it be challenging to get detailed information from supply chains in China in some instances, but, there’s a transport footprint to get bamboo to other parts of the supply chain, and to Western markets and other non asian markets
Some companies push the environmental and natural benefits of bamboo in their marketing, but the eco impact of their bamboo products behind the scenes may be different that what the marketing leads the consumer to believe. Similarly, some groups and influencers can promote products that they don’t actually how they are made beyond the marketing claims, because there’s little information available from supply and production chains (whether they are aware of this or not is a different point altogether)
Some sources indicate that with increased demand of bamboo, it may be using more agricultural chemicals and land to meet this demand
… [all] individual bamboo products need their own individual [lifecycle] sustainability assessment … to determine overall if they are eco friendly or not (the different variables of growing and production, and transport, delivering to the consumer etc. need to be taken into account)
The bamboo market is worth billions globally, and bamboo is used across many different commercial, industrial, and other types of industries
Bamboo is one of the most flexible, diverse and useful crops/grasses in the world – there’s many species of bamboo, it can grow in a range of climates and growing conditions, and bamboo can be used for many different end uses
Bamboo has it’s own set of traits a a fibre used in fabrics or textile products
Bamboo can be made in several different ways – bamboo rayon is common, with mechanical processing of bamboo being another. Organic bamboo is a different way to make bamboo again, although, there’s currently no certification scheme for this like there is for organic cotton
The chemicals processes involved in some bamboo fibre production may strip bamboo of some of it’s natural traits (and companies can sometimes neglect to outline this)
Some sources outline that some production methods for bamboo may make finished bamboo fabric pill easier, and might lead to it not being as durable (they might degrade and wear out quickly). To stop piling for example, the fibres/fabric might also need to be dyed and finished with specific chemicals
Bamboo currently doesn’t use GMOs – depending on whether GMOs are seen as beneficial or not, this is a consideration
The US actually changed their labelling standards (reportedly around 2010/11) so consumers knew when they were getting ‘bamboo rayon’ as opposed to naturally grown and processed bamboo. Bamboo using a rayon process, like the viscose process, must be labelled as ‘bamboo rayon’ and not ‘natural bamboo’. Consumers should be aware of this labelling, and how the bamboo is made, and make sure they are getting the bamboo product they think they are
What About The Eco Friendliness & Sustainability Of Other Fibres & Fabrics?
These guides may provide further insight on how bamboo compares to other fibres too.
Other Factors That Might Impact The Sustainability Or Eco Friendliness Of Fibres
*This Guide Is A Generalisation Only
The different variables in growing bamboo (conditions, climates, soils, farming technology, farming methods), retting, processing, production, usage, etc. can all impact the final sustainability footprint of hemp.
This is especially true between different producers, and between the developed and developing world countries.
What Is Bamboo?
Bamboo is an evergreen perennial flowering plant in the subfamily of the grass family (wikipedia.org)
There’s are different species and varieties of the bamboo plant to consider as well.
These different types of bamboo grow in different regions and climates, and can be used for different end uses.
keycolour.net indicates there are ‘… more than 1600 species of bamboo’
Production Of Bamboo
We do not have specific numbers on the production totals or shares of bamboo at this time.
But, you can read more about the production share of natural fibres compared to synthetic fibres in this guide.
Countries That Produce The Most Bamboo
Countries like China, India and Japan are some of the highest bamboo producers
The main bamboo producing countries are China, India, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines (bambooindustry.com)
China, India and Japan are the best countries for bamboo production and bamboo resource development (bambooindustry.com)
The main bamboo producing countries are China, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka (yoyucn.com)
Where Is The Most Bamboo Grown? (Geographical Regions)
There’s three main bamboo growing areas in the world, with the Asian area being the most prominent in terms of total growing area.
The Southeast Asia monsoon zone is home to 90% of total bamboo forest area
The world’s bamboo forest area is about 22 million hm2.
The geographical distribution of the world’s bamboo can be divided into 3 main areas – namely the Asia bamboo region, the Americas and Africa bamboo zone area.
The Southeast Asia monsoon zone (southeastern China, southwestern China, Indochina and the Indian subcontinent) is the world’s bamboo distribution center, the region has concentrated 80 percent of the world’s bamboo species, 90% of the total bamboo forest area.
keycolour.net indicates that ‘[Bamboo can be grown in a] diverse [range of] climates’ … [and covers] roughly 40 million hectares of the Earth, primarily Asia.
How Is Bamboo Grown, Harvested, & Processed?
You can read more about how bamboo flowers/grows,how it’s harvested/cultivated, and how it’s processed, in the listed madehow.com resource
It’s worth noting that different producers may grow, cultivate and process bamboo differently depending on growing conditions, farming methods preferences, technology available, and so on.
What Parts Of The Bamboo Grass Are Used?
The bamboo culm/stem is the main part of bamboo that is usually used.
These culms/stems are usually hollow, but some species of bamboo have solid culms/stems.
Bamboo leaves can also be used, for uses such as animal food (for pandas for example), and for other uses like for wrappers.
What Is Bamboo Used For? (Uses & Products)
Bamboo can be used in thousands of products across a range of industries.
Both the madehow.com and wikipedia.org listed resources outline the range of uses for bamboo across a range of products and items.
Bamboo is commonly used for building materials, as a food source, and as a versatile raw product.
Bamboo has a higher specific compressive strength than wood, brick or concrete, and a specific tensile strength that rivals steel.
Bamboo can be used in 1000’s of products, including but not limited to clothing/textiles, tissue/paper, furniture, cars, floorboards, energy, food and beverage and more (bambooimport.com)
Bamboo shoots that grow off the side of the stem can be picked for food, and the bamboo cane is usually cut out after 3 to 5 years and used for things like building materials, or further broken down for use of the fibres inside for example (homeguides.sfgate.com)
Main Types Of Bamboo Fibres – Chemically Processed Bamboo Rayon Fibre, & Mechanically Processed Bamboo Fibre
The two main types of bamboo fibre production are chemical bamboo fibre production, and mechanical bamboo fibre production.
Aside from the way each fibre is made, and their potential sustainability and eco friendly ratings, the end traits of each type of fibre may also differ.
More information on each bamboo fibre production method:
Chemically Produced Bamboo Fibre
Also known as bamboo rayon, or bamboo rayon viscose (read more about what rayon and viscose are in this guide).
Bamboo rayon usually involves the break down of bamboo cellulose material into a soluble pulp with chemicals or solvents, that can then be regenerated into a fibre. It may be mechanically crushed beforehand.
This is currently the most common form of bamboo fibre production, as several sources indicate that most bamboo textile products purchased by consumers contain bamboo fibres made using this process.
It involves chemical or solvent intensive processes, and usually involves using the viscose process over other rayon production processes like the lyocell process for example.
A few examples of chemicals/substances used in in the bamboo viscose rayon process might include caustic soda (sodium hydroxide), lye, sulfuric acid, and carbon disulfide.
The bamboo rayon process may strip bamboo of some of it’s natural traits.
Instead of using the viscose process to make bamboo rayon, the lyocell process can also be used, and might be slightly more eco friendly and sustainable.
Beyond the fibre production stage, there’s also washing, bleaching, and finishing of fibres (with dyes etc) to consider, where more chemicals and substances can be used.
Textiles labelled as being made from bamboo are usually not made by mechanical crushing and retting.
Modern clothing labeled as being made from bamboo is usually viscose rayon, a fiber made by dissolving the cellulose in the bamboo, and then extruding it to form fibres
Almost all bamboo fibre used in industrial textile production is not natural bamboo, but is a product for which the cellulose has been regenerated through a viscose/rayon process and can, therefore, not be considered as natural or even organic fibre (global-standard.org)
Since the fibers of bamboo are very short (less than 3 mm or 1⁄8 in), they are not usually transformed into yarn by a natural process.
The usual process by which textiles labeled as being made of bamboo are produced uses only rayon made from the fibers with heavy employment of chemicals.
To accomplish this, the fibers are broken down with chemicals and extruded through mechanical spinnerets; the chemicals include lye, carbon disulfide, and strong acids
– wikipedia.org, and madehow.com
The process used to turn bamboo into a fiber [that is] used almost exclusively today [is] the viscose process …
[In the] viscose process, cellulose is treated with caustic soda (aka: sodium hydroxide) and carbon disulfide [and other processes involve a chemical bath involving sulfuric acid, and washing and bleaching, before rayon yarn can be formed]
[The weaving process also involves chemicals use and water use]
[oecotextiles.blog has a schematic flow diagram of bamboo viscose production]
bambootextiles.com.au provides a good summary of the chemical bamboo fibre production and processing process:
Bamboo textile fibre is made from bamboo timber which has matured in the forest for at least 4 years.
When harvested [at maturity] they are taken to mills where they are crushed and submersed in a strong solution of sodium hydroxide which dissolves the bamboo cellulose.
With the addition of carbon disulfide it renders the mix ready to regenerate fibres which are then drawn off, washed and bleached to a bright white colour and dried.
The resultant fluff is very long in staple and visibly finer than other fibres.
Then they are spun into yarn, like any other textile fibre.
[The break down of bamboo material via the viscose production process involves chemicals] Bamboo produced using this method is referred to as bamboo rayon or bamboo viscose.
As part of the process of turning the fiber into yarn, the yarn is boiled in lye and soaked in carbon disulfide.
This is not an environmentally friendly production process
[During bamboo production] Starchy pulp is produced from bamboo stems and leaves through a process of alkaline hydrolysis and multi-phase bleaching.
Further chemical processes produce bamboo fibre.
According to goodonyou.eco:
Bamboo rayon is most commonly made through what is known as the viscose process, which involves dissolving cellulose material (such as wood chips or 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.
Mechanically Produced Bamboo Fibre
May sometimes be called ‘bamboo linen’.
Involves mechanically separating bamboo fibres from the bamboo plant, and spinning them into thread
It can be labor intensive and expensive.
[In mechanically produced bamboo fibre] the woody part of the bamboo is crushed mechanically before a natural enzyme retting and washing process is used to break down the walls and extract the fibre.
This bast fibre is then spun into yarn
There is some naturally retted bamboo (processed like flax or hemp) on the market though it’s still hard to find (oecotextiles.blog)
[Mechanical production of bamboo involves …] The wooden parts of bamboo [being] crushed mechanically before an enzyme retting and washing process breaks down its walls.
After the extraction of the bamboo fiber, it is then spun into yarn.
… Although expensive, this method is eco-friendly and creates an impeccably durable material
… [Compared to chemically produced bamboo …] a more environmentally friendly process for manufacturing the bamboo fiber is being used in Europe.
In this process, the woody part of the bamboo is broken down from the walls of the bamboo stalk, and the bamboo fiber is crushed mechanically.
The raw fiber is then processed in environmentally-friendly enzymes, soaked in water, and washed.
Making Bamboo Fibre Production More Sustainable & Eco Friendly
A list of these methods might include:
Using more mechanical processing of bamboo fibre instead of chemical heavy processing
When chemical processing is used, use environmentally-friendly enzymes, eco friendly solvents, and water
Use the lyocell process over the viscose process
Consider the use of technology like wet processors to better manage chemicals and waste
Consider the use of closed loop production to capture and reuse chemicals, and also waste water
Capture emissions before they get into the environment
Consider how certifications can better be implemented to guarantee standards for consumers in bamboo fabrics and products throughout the bamboo supply and production chains
Mechanically produced true bamboo linen can be sustainable (elkieark.com)
The process used to turn bamboo into a fiber which is used almost exclusively today, the viscose process, can also be eco friendly if the manufacturer makes the effort to capture emissions and treat effluent
[Bamboo rayon can be made via the viscose process or via the lyocell process, and the lyocell process] which is a closed loop system [is] much more sustainable
[When the lyocell process is used for bamboo rayon, it can] be better environmentally … (goodonyou.eco)
Some … bamboo viscose fiber … is produced in a process that has no water pollution or solid waste disposal problems, and that has only minimal air pollution [but, you have to check this on a case by case basis with the company’s website, individual product, and label]
Bamboo can use closed loop processes that capture chemicals and dyes – but make sure that bamboo is certified to guarantee the process used
– fashion-incubator.com, and 1millionwomen.com.au
Bamboo Rayon Mislabelled As Bamboo
It’s important to make sure bamboo is being labelled correctly to accurately reflect how it is made.
There’s been cases in the past where bamboo rayon was labelled as natural bamboo.
[A case of bamboo rayon mislabelling:]
In 2010, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission issued letters informing over 100 companies that they were mislabeling products made of rayon [processed with synthetic chemicals] as being made from bamboo, deceiving environmentally conscious consumers.
In 2015, the FTC filed complaints against [various companies] for continuing to deceptively sell rayon mislabeled as bamboo.
The four companies were required to pay civil penalties … for violating [certain Acts]
Similar action took place in Canada
The Yield Of Bamboo
Bamboo is generally known as one of the fastest growing fibre crop
Although bamboo can grow with little or no irrigation in some regions, irrigated bamboo might have increased yields in terms of total production.
Compared to cotton, bamboo may yield more per square area of land.
Most bamboo might reach maturation in three to five, which might be less than trees.
Bamboo is a perennial, which means that more total yields or harvests may be able to be achieved from the same one plant.
Lastly, bamboo may grow back with more biomass yearly after being cut, which means more material product.
Production Yield Totals, & Land Acreage & Hectare Yields
… in rain-fed systems, bamboo can yield from 5 to 40 tonnes per hectare per year.
In irrigated plantations, this yield can increase to 100 tonnes.
[Bamboo has average yields …] of up to 60 tonnes per hectare … (wikipedia.org)
Time To Maturation
Bamboo takes around 4 years to mature … (blog.worldagroforestry.org)
Most varieties mature in five years or less, so the harvest cycle is much shorter than that of trees, which can take decades to mature to a harvestable stage (profitableplants.com)
Yield Compared To Other Fibre Crops
From keycolour.net: [Bamboo has a yield that] is ten times that of cotton without using any fertilizers or pesticides
With average yields for bamboo of up to 60 tonnes per hectare greatly exceeding the average yield of 20 tonnes for most trees and the average yield of 2 tonnes per hectare for cotton, bamboo’s high yield per hectare becomes very significant (wikipedia.org)
One study found bamboo produces 14 tons of wood per acre, as against 8 for loblolly pine (oecotextiles.blog)
How Fast Does Bamboo Grow?
[Bamboo is the] fastest growing woody plant in the world
Bamboo’s extraordinary growth rate makes it a cheap, sustainable and efficient crop
Bamboos include some of the fastest-growing plants in the world, due to a unique rhizome-dependent system.
Certain species of bamboo can grow 91 cm (36 in) within a 24-hour period, at a rate of almost 4 cm (1.6 in) an hour (a growth around 1 mm every 90 seconds, or 1 inch every 40 minutes).
Bamboo As A Perennial
Bamboo is a perennial plant, which means it’s a plant that lives more than two years.
Perennials can be distinguished from shorter-lived annuals and biennials.
What this may mean is that bamboos don’t have to be replanted and re-sown like some other plants, grasses or crops have to be.
thehappybamboo.com notes: ‘There are over 1400 species of bamboo all over the world [and they are] not all the same in their flowering habits’
Bamboo Increasing Biomass After Cutting
… studies have shown that felling of canes leads to vigorous re-growth and an increase in the amount of biomass the next year (wikipedia.org)
How Much Water Does Bamboo Use?
Bamboo in some climates and places with adequate rainfall may not need as much water, and may need little irrigation in general.
Bamboo in other climates may need more water.
Older bamboo that is several years old may not need as much water as younger bamboo grasses
Several sources indicate that bamboo requires less water overall than cotton and organic cotton, and less irrigated water specifically.
Some sources say finished bamboo products could have a similar water footprint to cotton products, but bamboo is faster growing and more hardy as a crop, meaning that it might be more resource efficient in some ways
One source indicates bamboo is more water efficient than trees as a cellulose source for fibres
Another source says bamboo uses as much water as organic cotton.
Below we haven’t got specific data on water use of bamboo at the growing stage, and the production stage separately.
Very little bamboo is irrigated (wikipedia.org)
[bamboo needs] Ideally, about an inch [of water] a week … (in 1-3 applications per week).
In many climates, after the bamboo has been in the ground for 3-5 years, water is no longer necessary for survival.
Keep in mind, bamboo that doesn’t get a regular watering during the summer won’t look as good as bamboo that does.
Bamboo uses considerable water (wikipedia.org)
Compared To Other Fibres
Bamboo requires 1/3 the amount of water to grow that cotton uses (nutricare.co)
… organic cotton … [is] a thirsty plant with around 256.6 gallons of water required to grow enough to make a single t-shirt.
Bamboo is a similarly thirsty but is faster growing and hardy …
… there is sound evidence that the water-use efficiency of bamboo is twice that of trees.
This makes bamboo more able to handle harsh weather conditions such as drought, flood and high temperatures.
Compare bamboo to cotton which is a thirsty crop – it can take up to 20,000 litres of water to produce 1 kg of cotton and 73% of the global cotton harvest comes from irrigated land.
From keycolour.net: … Even organic cotton uses a significant amount of water for growing, whereas bamboo grows without the need for irrigation
From fashionhedge.com: ‘Bamboo for example uses far less irrigated water and chemicals to grow than cotton [but bamboo viscose can use a lot of chemicals]
[Bamboo is roughly about as water/irrigated water hungry as organic cotton] (elkieark.com)
Carbon Footprint Of Bamboo
Bamboo can be carbon neutral.
Some species of bamboo such as Moso bamboo can be particularly good at carbon absortion and storage.
As a natural fibre, bamboo may generally have a lower carbon footprint than synthetic fibres.
Bamboo as a commercial crop may absorb more carbon and produce more oxygen than trees used as a commercial plantation/crop.
Bamboo In General
Bamboo can be carbon neutral, but each product depends on factors like where the bamboo is grown, how it’s processed, transportation etc (inbar.int)
Moso Bamboo Specifically
China has a native giant species of bamboo called Moso bamboo.
One hectare (an area roughly the size of an athletics track) of this species can store up to 250 tons of carbon (Qi, 2009). … [and] this translates into the amount of carbon that was produced in 2009 by around 160 people in China (or, equivalently, 50 people in the U.S.A.).
Each year, a hectare of Moso bamboo absorbs 5.1 tons of carbon, which can compensate for the CO2 emissions of three people in China (or one person in the U.S.A.).
Bamboo As A Natural Fibre
[Bamboo is a natural fibre, and so according to Oecotextiles, has a lower carbon footprint than synthetic fibres:]
At the fiber level it is clear that synthetics have a much bigger footprint than does any natural fiber, including wool or conventionally produced cotton.
So in terms of the carbon footprint at the fiber level, any natural fiber beats any synthetic – at this point in time.
Best of all is an organic natural fiber.
Compared To Other Crops & Plantations
Bamboo crops take in almost five times the amount of greenhouse gases and produce 35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees (1millionwomen.com.au)
From keycolour.net: [… bamboo] absorbs carbon dioxide and releases 35% more oxygen into the atmosphere in comparison to hardwood trees
… planted in large groves, [bamboo] can store four times the CO2 as a stand of trees of similar size, and it releases 35% more oxygen. (oecotextiles.blog)
How Much Pesticide Does Bamboo Use?
Bamboo doesn’t always need pesticides, herbicides or insecticides, but may use them in some situations.
Bamboo may use less total pesticides and other related agricultural sprays compared to cotton.
… there is no need for pesticides or fertilizers when growing bamboo.
However, herbicide and fertilizer applications are common in some places to encourage edible shoot growth.
Bamboo also contains a substance called bamboo-kun – an antimicrobial agent that gives the plant a natural resistance to pest and fungi infestation, though some pathogen problems do still exist in some bamboo plantations.
From keycolour.net: Bamboo grows organically without the use of pesticides, meaning it’s naturally resistant to pests and diseases.
Compared To Cotton
From keycolour.net: Bamboo fabric is a better and more natural alternative to cotton — one of the most intensely sprayed crops [with pesticides and insecticides] in the world
… only 2.4% of the world’s arable land is planted with cotton, yet cotton accounts for 24% of the world’s insecticide market and 11% of the sale of global pesticides (wikipedia.org)
How Much Fertilizer Does Bamboo Use?
Fertilizer may sometimes be used for bamboo in some situations, but may sometimes not be used.
Whether it is used or not might depend on whether it’s beneficial in the situation.
Organic fertilizer is an option for fertilizing bamboo, but sometimes a synthetic nitrogen fertilizer product can be used.
Because bamboo grows fast and is reasonably hardy, it might not need as much fertilizer as another crop like organically grown cotton for example.
Increased demand may lead to bamboo using more agricultural chemicals.
… there is no need for pesticides or fertilizers when growing bamboo.
However, herbicide and fertilizer applications are common in some places to encourage edible shoot growth.
Fertilizing [bamboo] isn’t usually necessary if the bamboo is in the ground, but often will promote larger growth with greener foliage.
Bamboo is dormant in the winter, so the best time to fertilize is in the spring and summer.
For bamboo in the ground, organic fertilizer, such as mushroom compost, aged horse manure, fish meal, feather meal, or blood meal are all good options.
There’s reason to believe that bamboo, even though traditionally believed to not use … much agricultural chemicals, is using more pesticides and fertilisers … with increased demand of bamboo worldwide (elkieark.com)
Compared To Other Fibres
[Bamboo is] faster growing and hardy [compared to organic cotton], so doesn’t really benefit from additional fertilisers (theecologist.org)
Bamboo, Soil Health, & Soil & Land Degradation
The root system of bamboo, bamboo being a grass that regenerates and does not need uprooting or replanting during harvesting (like cotton might need), and bamboo leaf litter, can help with the preservation of soil health, the reduction of soil erosion, and the restoration of degraded soil.
Reduce Soil Erosion
[Compared to cotton which needs to be replanted yearly, and can lead to soil erosion, bamboo’s root system, and bamboo not needing to be] uprooted during harvesting means bamboo actually helps preserve soil and prevent soil erosion
[Bamboo’s root system also helps hold soil together and create an effective watershed near river banks, in] deforested areas and in places prone to mudslides
[Bamboo’s root system can also help reduce soil erosion from] rain run-off.
A bamboos root system grows into a dense ‘mat’ of fine roots which is shallow but wide spread.
This means that its ability to hold soil together is excellent, even in areas where erosion caused by flowing water is a problem.
It will hold soil together along fragile river banks, deforested areas, dam walls and spillways.
Preserve Soil Quality
Conventional cotton-growing also causes a severe reduction in soil quality through the impact of constant use of pesticides on soil organisms (wikipedia.org)
Restore Degraded Soil
Because of the bamboos fast growth and dense foliage, it will quickly deposit a thick layer of leaf litter covering the ground, which will then start restoring degraded soils and re-establishing a cooler micro-climate.
Bamboo & Land Use
One of the benefits of bamboo is that it may be able to make use of land that has topography that other natural fibres and crops can’t grow on.
Not only does this help use land resources that otherwise wouldn’t be used, but it adds to the flexibility and diversity of bamboo as a crop.
Additionally, the dense growth of bamboo grasses can help it use land efficiently.
Increased demand may also be driving more land use for bamboo in some countries.
Land In General
There’s reason to believe that bamboo … is using more … agricultural land with increased demand of bamboo worldwide (elkieark.com)
Growth On Hard-To-Use Topography
From keycolour.net: [Bamboo can grow] on hill slopes where nothing else grows
Bamboo grows very densely, and its clumping nature enables a lot of it to be grown in a comparatively small area, easing pressure on land use (wikipedia.org)
Chemicals Used By Bamboo During The Processing/Production Stage
The production and processing stage might be the least eco friendly stage of bamboo fibre supply and production.
There’s the chemicals or solvents used to break down raw bamboo cellulose material for bamboo rayon/viscose.
But, there’s also chemicals and dyes used to finish bamboo fibres and fabrics.
It’s worth noting that in recent times, technology and new processes like wet processors and closed loop production may help reduce environmental impact of fibre production.
The lyocell process may also be more sustainable than the viscose process for bamboo rayon
According to goodonyou.eco:
The chemicals used [for the viscose process for bamboo rayon] 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 in recent years] wet processors … have been [used for more sustainable] chemical management and waste treatment
On the other hand, bambootextiles.com.au indicates that many of the chemicals used in viscose rayon production may not pose a significant risk:
The two main chemicals used in the process [when it comes to bamboo rayon viscose production] are sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide … [and] With adequate ventilation [carbon disulfide] is not a problem these days and it breaks down when in contact with the natural elements.
Neither carbon nor sulfur are poisonous elements.
Sodium hydroxide is also known as caustic soda, and it is true that it is strongly alkaline and will react with many substances … however, it is not toxic at all …
Finishing Bamboo Fibres & Fabrics
There’s also the finishing process of bamboo fibre and fabrics after the fibre production process to consider
oecotextiles.blog mentions ‘[bamboo can be] dyed with dyestuffs that contain lead, mercury, or other heavy metals, mutagenic chemicals that change our DNA or endocrine disruptors which affect our hormone balance
[Bamboo might require certain chemicals for certain traits:]
To turn bamboo from a wood to a soft fabric, it takes chemicals like sulphuric acid or formaldehyde.
To stop pilling, the fibres/fabric might also need to be dyed and finished with chemicals
Compared To Other Fibres
Bamboo fabrics [has better absorption of dyestuffs, and therefore needs] less dyestuff than cotton, modal or viscose.
Bamboo absorbs the dyestuffs faster and shows the colors better.
[Less dye means less resource use, and less waste and potential for dye pollution to deal with]
The oecotextiles.blog and goodonyou.eco resources listed have more information on the chemicals used in the bamboo rayon and viscose processes
Transport Footprint Of Bamboo
Like all fibres, bamboo has a transport footprint through the supply and production chain.
Bamboo specifically may have one of the larger transport footprints within the supply chain, and from where majority of bamboo is currently grown, in Asia, to where many bamboo products are consumed, in the West.
Where the bamboo comes from can play a part in it’s overall sustainability …
Some argue that the environmental costs of production – and the fact that bamboo resources are located far from western consumer markets – outweigh the plant’s green benefits.
Bamboo & Certifications
At this point in time, FSC certification is one of the main certifications for bamboo.
FSC® is a sustainable forestry certification system.
What About Organic Bamboo?
In the instance of certification for ‘organic bamboo’, most bamboo does not currently qualify for GOTS certification like organic cotton does.
So, keep this in mind if you see any bamboo labelled as organic, or certified as organic.
Almost all bamboo fibre used in industrial textile production is not natural bamboo, but is a [regenerated rayon/viscose bamboo, and therefore may] not be considered as natural or even organic fibre, even if the bamboo plant was originally certified as organic, in the field.
As a consequence, bamboo fibres can only be used for the tolerated remaining balance of conventional fibres in GOTS certified textiles.
If the rayon is made from organically grown bamboo, up to 10% may be used for the ‘made with organic materials’ label grade.
These rules also apply to regenerated fibres derived from any other raw material source
At this stage, there is no organic certification that covers the entire supply and production process of bamboo rayon
[Bamboo can be sustainably grown or grown using organic methods, but, the viscose/rayon production process is often not organic or natural]
[Some of the features that consumers might look in bamboo that is grown and processed more naturally or more organically might be] toxic pesticide free … GMO free … Toxic bleach free … AZO, and toxic dye free … Heavy metal free … Reduces and captures toxic waste and waste water … [and the] end product contains no toxic chemicals
Bamboo & GMOs
Currently there are no known genetically modified organism (GMO) variants of bamboo. (oecotextiles.blog)
Impact Of Bamboo On The Environment, Humans & Animals/Wildlife
Impact On The Environment
Bamboo rayon that doesn’t capture or treat waste water and chemicals/solvents may pollute water sources/aquatic environments.
Impact On Humans and Human Health
There may not be as much risk for those harvesting bamboo as for other crops where there is risk of pesticide and herbicide chemical exposure.
But, if chemicals are used in the processing stage, especially for bamboo rayon using the viscose method, then production workers may be at risk.
Those with allergies may also be at risk as consumers when wearing bamboo fabric are heavily treated with chemicals.
Carbon disulphide is a chemical that can be used in the [bamboo] viscose production method, and it can be toxic and harmful to workers’ health (elkieark.com)
Impact On Animals & Wildlife
Depends if the processing stage is closed loop or not.
Chemicals discharged in water sources can be harmful to aquatic wild life.
Pandas and other animals whose habitat is bamboo, or who depend on it for a food source, may also be affected if wild bamboo forests are cut down as well.
Economic Impact Of Bamboo
The economic value of the bamboo market is projected to be in the billions globally, and the Asia and Pacific region is identified as having the largest market share according to one source.
Total Market Value
Global market for bamboo [was forecast at] US $3.6 Bn [in total] by the end of 2017 (futuremarketinsights.com)
Annual Economic Value
Bamboo has a global economy valued at 60 billion a year in 2016 (edition.cnn.com)
Region With Biggest Bamboo Market Share
APAC [Asia Pacific] is expected to account for more than 2/3rd share of the global bamboos market by the end of 2017.
APAC is projected to create a total incremental $ opportunity of close to US$ 5000 Mn between 2017 and 2027 and is projected to be the most attractive region in the global bamboos market over the forecast period.
General Economic Impact Of Plant Based Fibres
Natural fibres that grow as crops, plants, grasses, etc, may be the only type of fibre that can be produced in some regions of the world, compared to synthetic fibres which may not be able to be produced in the same regions.
They may offer other benefits too, such as being able to be grown alongside or in rotation with another plant, crop, or other agricultural product.
Traits Of Bamboo Fibres & Fabrics
Some More Bamboo Stats & Facts
You can read some interesting stats and facts about bamboo in the softschools.com resource