I was shocked to discover that Bamboo Rayon is not an eco-friendly fabric! Thanks to Mark Morris of Turk & Taylor, who recently exchanged Emails with me regarding certain processes by which plants like bamboo are turned into soft threads, I was directed to this article which discusses in depth, the toxic chemicals and hazardous conditions surrounding a seemingly benign industry.
The major distinction here is between a rayon and a linen. Rayons are typically made using large amounts of hazardous chemicals like bleach, carbon disulfide, and sodium hydroxide (AKA: lye, caustic soda), known for a sleuth of environmental and health hazards, in a process called hydrolysis alkalization. Aside from the shock of finding out that something being touted as almost beneficial to the Earth and those of us living on it, I feel betrayed by those reaping the benefits of this perfect example of greenwashing.
It’s no surprise since the EPA has been a huge failure, and on top of that, even their limited scope cannot touch most of the “Free Trade” protected environmental catastrophes otherwise-known-as textile factories in other countries with little environmental regulations.
There are two typical ways in which bamboo is turned into fabric. One of them is considered sustainable – utilizing enzymes, one of them is not. Of course, the cheaper way is the dangerous one:
“Bamboo the plant is wonderfully sustainable; bamboo the fabric isn’t so easy to categorize. There are two ways to process bamboo to make the plant into a fabric: mechanically or chemically. The mechanical way is by crushing the woody parts of the bamboo plant and then use natural enzymes to break the bamboo walls into a mushy mass so that the natural fibers can be mechanically combed out and spun into yarn. This is essentially the same eco-friendly manufacturing process used to produce linen fabric from flax or hemp. Bamboo fabric made from this process is sometimes called bamboo linen. Very little bamboo linen is manufactured for clothing because it is more labor intensive and costly.”
In a market already overwhemled with specialized labeling, how can we know that the things we buy are actually eco-friendly and sustainable, and not just some ridiculous ploy?
“If you are thinking of purchasing bamboo clothing or any clothing that has been made outside the U.S., look for certification from an independent and reliable certification company such as Oeko-Tex, Soil Association, SKAL, KRAV or similar organic or sustainable certification body. Currently, the Oeko-Tex label is the most comprehensive label for insuring that the garment is healthy for consumers but it does not certify the manufacturing processes that produced the garment as being environmentally friendly and sustainable.”
DB’s Etiquette Recommendation: I am no chemist, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please drop a comment with any tips or advice.