Bamboo VS. Cotton: An Environmental Comparison

If you've been following the latest sustainable trends, you've probably noticed that there are more bamboo items being produced than ever before. Not only can bamboo be used as a substitute for wood and plastic, but it can also be made into fabrics as well. Today we're going to answer the question of which fabric is the most sustainable to use in your daily life; cotton or bamboo?

Cotton Field

The benefits of cotton
Everyone knows cotton and knows it's one of the staple fabrics in our closet, but non-organic cotton isn't as sustainable as organic cotton. Therefore, for this article, we will talk about organic cotton.

Organic cotton does not use pesticides or fertilizers to grow, allowing the plant to grow stronger. Typically, the strength of the fibres would be broken down by these chemicals causing weak material that damages easily. The lack of harmful chemicals allows clothing made from organic cotton to last longer without any tears or holes. Cotton is an easy fabric to care for because it does not require any special washing practices.

How is cotton made into a fabric?
Cotton goes through a machine that separates the fibres from the seeds, and other debris, allowing them to be spun into yarn. This yarn can then be woven into fabric or knitted. After the production is complete, the finished product is prepared for its next customer by bleaching, dyeing, printing, etc.


The benefits of bamboo
Bamboo has recently been discovered to use as fabric as well. Bamboo is a regenerating plant, meaning that it doesn't need to be replanted every year to produce. It also requires only a third of the water cotton uses, and it can grow in very diverse circumstances. People who've had bamboo in their yards often note it's like a weed; it grows that well.

Bamboo has thicker and stronger fibres, making it a very durable fabric. These fibres are also very absorbent, so they don't need as much dye to be coloured. It's an antiallergenic fabric and very soft as well, making it a big competitor of Egyptian cotton.

Bamboo is an excellent fabric for clothing because it is very breathable and absorbs sweat quite quickly. It also prevents any nasty odours because of its antimicrobial properties. These organisms help to reduce the bacteria that thrive in clothing.

Panda-safe bamboo
Of course, bamboo is a well-known source of food for pandas. You may be thinking, "will those pandas be safe during the harvest of bamboo, and will they have enough food left to eat?". There are a few rules one must follow to ensure the bamboo they produce is environmentally friendly and panda-safe.
The first requirement is that the rate of harvest must be sustainable, meaning that they won't harvest too much at once. There also shouldn't be any ecosystems destroyed in the process of creating bamboo plantations, meaning only natural sources of bamboo or empty plantations can be used. During the growing process, there must be no chemicals used in order to maintain the plantations, and there should be no negative impact on society and its workers on those plantations.
Following these rules, there should be enough bamboo for both humans and pandas to enjoy.

How is Bamboo made into fabric?
Ultimately, there are two ways to create fabric out of bamboo: mechanically and chemically. Through the use of machines, the bamboo stems are crushed, and natural dissolving enzymes are used to create a big mushy pile of bamboo. From that pile, the intact fibres will be combed out and spun into yarn. This process is also used for linen, flax and hemp. This specific process also creates a specific type of fabric called bamboo linen.

Using chemicals, bamboo can be made into a sort of rayon. The bamboo is cooked in strong solvents like NaOH (sodium hydroxide). It will also be bleached. The chemicals in this process are known for causing health problems making this a less than desirable method.

Downsides of both options
While both fabrics each have their great benefits, there are some downsides as well. The most notable is the price. Bamboo is usually more expensive than cotton; however, high-quality cotton with an equal amount of threads will cost about the same as bamboo clothing/sheets. Both do last long, so buying either bamboo or cotton is a good investment.

Cotton also is a plant that needs more water and more care. It can only grow in specific environments with the right amount of sunlight, care and water. It's not an endless source. Bamboo, on the other hand, can grow pretty much anywhere. And it grows in such lengths that it could almost be considered to be endless. When you buy non-organic cotton, you're also exposing yourself to a lot of pesticides which may be harmful to you, but bamboo that is processed using chemicals can be harmful as well.

Could bamboo replace cotton?
While there will always be people with preferences for cotton, bamboo is overall more sustainable for the earth and better for your health as well. Due to its hypoallergenic qualities and less need for pesticides and fertilizers, it is more suitable for those with sensitive skin, like children or elderly. Using the right practices to create bamboo plantations and keeping out of the habitat of panda's, as well as using the mechanical processing techniques, bamboo could be our future fabric of choice.

The conclusion is mostly about your opinion. Which fabric feels better to you? Both have different types of fabric, allowing you to try out different versions before settling on your favourite. Both materials can be quite expensive but will last for a long time. Investing will pay off as long as you choose a sustainable source.


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