Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bamboo: Pros and Cons

Bamboo; soft squishy and wonderful, or environmental hazard?

Bamboo, it conjures up images of deep green forests in the interior of China, with perhaps a chance to glimpse a panda bear as one wanders through its' reedy depths...For me it always reminds me of my brothers back yard, as they had a huge patch of bamboo they used as a privacy screen and fence. This amazing weed like plant (grass actually) has so many uses; building materials, flooring, food, not to mention the countless wind chimes and souvenirs made form its hollow tubes. The squish-ably soft fabric that comes from this plant is my focus today. I want to present you BRIEFLY :) with a few of the pros and cons and offer you some links to further research; as with everything you must decide for yourself if it is right for you!

  • It is fast growing (up to a yard a day in some species) which makes it a rapidly renewable resource.
  • It seems to be disease and pest resistant overall.
  • As it is considered a weed like plant, it grows easily and does not require great amounts of fertilizer
  • Bamboo is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal supposedly because of a bacteriostatis agent unique to bamboo plants called “bamboo kun” which also helps bamboo resist harboring odors.
  • Bamboo clothing is hypoallergenic.
  • Bamboo is very absorbent and wicks moisture away from the body 3 to 4 times faster than cotton alone. In warm, humid weather it keep the wearer drier, cooler and doesn’t stick to the skin...A big plus for diapers.
  • Bamboo fabric, regardless of manufacturing methods, is 100% biodegradable and does not decompose into any pollutants such as methane gas.
  • Currently, there are no known genetically modified organisms (GMO) variants of bamboo.
  • Most bamboo processing methods require hazardous chemicals such as sodium hydroxide (NaOH – also known as caustic soda or lye) and carbon disulfide in a process also known as hydrolysis alkalization combined with multi-phase bleaching.
  • While you can purchase fabrics with assurances that these chemicals are not in the final product, (See “Oeko Tex Standard 100" certification) at what cost to the worker and the environment is this fabric produced?
  • Most bamboo products come from China, and in an America where there is a push to “buy American” to boost our struggling economy, maybe boosting China’s economy is not desirable.

What is the bottom line, and what should I do to know my fabric is safe for my babies?

The bottom line on bamboo: The growing of bamboo is environmentally friendly but the manufacturing of bamboo into fabric definitely has some environmental and health concerns. While there are methods that are less hazardous, or use more of a closed chemical loop, they are expensive and not as commonly used. There is a large list of benefits of bamboo as a fabric, but you the consumer have to decide if the benefits outweigh some of the serious hazards.

What to do? 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.

Although planting and harvesting bamboo may not impact the environment negatively, the handling of it certainly can. In six years there has been little done to ensure that it’s safe for handlers or the people that manufacture it. There is still lots of room for improvement and debate of bamboo.

For myself, I love the soft silky feel of the bamboo fleece that I have used in diapers and wipes. What I have purchased has been certified organic, but I don’t honestly know if it is certified chemical free, you would think these two would go hand in hand, but they don’t.  If I choose to carry a line of bamboo wipes, or any other product made from bamboo, I am going to spend time investigating where it comes from and how it is processed. I don’t think I can sell it in good conscience unless I know a few specific details.  Click on some of the links below and research for yourself what is best for your family.

Sources for this article:
Organic Clothing Blogs
Natural News
Mother Earth News
Green Building Elements

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