Should we buy clothes made from bamboo? This widespread, fast-growing, carbon-consuming crop is an alternative to trees for many purposes, including for making viscose. It grows in some places where other crops can’t be grown. While it’s technically a grass, its woody stems, which are lightweight, hard, flexible and tough, make it extremely versatile. The same goes for its radiating roots. For example, we use it for construction, for bicycle frames, for stabilising slopes, and to make fabric. Oh, and it’s a beautiful plant.

Bamboo-made material, in the form of viscose (also known as rayon), is often presented as a “better” alternative to cotton. It’s soft-feeling and stretchy by comparison. But is it better for the planet?

Bamboo is faster growing, takes up less land, requires fewer pesticides or herbicides, and needs less water to grow than cotton.

But obtaining fibres from bamboo requires chemical and/or mechanical processes. Mechanical extraction consumes energy. Chemical extraction releases carbon disulfide, which is toxic and flammable and may harm the environment, workers and wildlife

Bamboo forest

What should I do?

Look out for forms of bamboo fabric that don’t involve chemical processes. These are labelled organic bamboo (for which a USDA certification exists). Next, look for “Lyocell”-type bamboo fabric (also known as Monocel), which is produced with chemicals but in a closed loop, so that they are not released as with conventional bamboo viscose.

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Top photo by Eleonora Albasi on Unsplash; bottom photo by Minh Trí on Unsplash