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Bamboo textiles are cloth, yarn and clothing made out of bamboo fibers. While historically used only for structural elements, such as the ribs of old-fashioned corsets, in recent years a range of technologies have been developed allowing bamboo fiber to be used in a wide range of textile and fashion applications. Modern bamboo clothing is made from either 100% bamboo yarn or a blend of bamboo and other yarns such as cotton or other textile fibers including hemp, spandex and nylon.
Ecological reasons for using bamboo for textiles and clothing
1. EXTRAORDINARY GROWTH
Reaching more than 100 feet tall, bamboo is the largest member of the grass family. Bamboo is the fastest growing woody plant in the world. One Japanese species has been recorded as growing over 3 feet in a day. There are over 1600 species of bamboo found in diverse climates from cold mountains to hot tropical regions. About 100 million acres of the earth is covered with bamboo, mostly in Asia. The high growth rate of bamboo and the fact that bamboo can grow in such diverse climates makes the bamboo plant a sustainable and versatile resource.
Once a new shoot emerges from the ground, the new cane will reach its full height in just 8–10 weeks. Each cane reaches maturity in 3–5 years. Bamboo can be continually re-harvested with no damage to the surrounding environment. It is a grass and so regenerates after being cut just like a lawn without the need for replanting. This regular harvesting is actually of benefit to the health of the plant – studies have shown that felling of canes leads to vigorous re-growth and an increase in the amount of biomass the next year.
3. YIELD AND LAND USE
Land use is of extreme importance in current global climate conditions as the world’s seven billion people compete for water, food, fiber and shelter. Sustainable land use practices provide both economic and environmental advantages. Bamboo can be used as food, fiber and shelter and due to its ease of growth and extraordinary growth rate is a cheap, sustainable and efficient crop. Bamboo also grows very densely – its clumping nature enables a lot of it to be grown in a comparatively small area, easing pressure on land use.
Yields of bamboo of up to 150 ton per acre greatly exceed the yield of 25 tons for most trees and only 3-5 ton per acre for cotton.
Bamboo requires only one-time planting of bamboo and very little care and maintenance. In a time when land use is under enormous pressure, bamboo’s high yield per hectare becomes extremely significant.
4. GREENHOUSE GASES AND GLOBAL WARMING
Human activity is not only producing more carbon dioxide, but it is also severely damaging the ability of the planet to absorb carbon via its carbon sinks — the forests. Growing forests absorb CO2 but deforestation has, sadly, resulted in fewer trees to soak up rising levels of CO2. Bamboo’s extreme growth minimizes CO2 and generates up to 35% more oxygen than equivalent stands of trees.
One acre of bamboo sequesters 150 tons of carbon dioxide per year while one acre of young forest only sequesters 45 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
Bamboo planting can slow deforestation, providing an alternative source of timber for the construction industry and cellulose fiber for the textile industry. It allows communities to turn away from the destruction of their native forests and to construct commercial bamboo plantations that can be selectively harvested annually without the destruction of the grove.
During harvest season, tree plantations have to be chopped down and terminated, but bamboo keeps on growing. So when a bamboo cane is cut down, it will produce another shoot and is ready for harvest again in as little as one year. Compare this to cotton – harvesting organic cotton requires the destruction of the entire crop causing bare soils to bake in the sun and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Before replanting next year’s crop the cotton farmers till the field which releases yet more CO2.
6. WATER USE
Very little bamboo is irrigated and 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 – a thirsty crop… It can take more than 5,000 gallons of water to produce a bit more than 2 pounds of cotton and 73% of the global cotton harvest comes from irrigated land. Bamboo on the other hand requires only 130 gallons of water to produce 3 pounds and requires no irrigation at all.
Some studies indicate that cotton is the largest user of water among all agricultural commodities.
7. SOIL EROSION
Yearly replanting of crops such as cotton leads to widespread soil erosion. Conventional cotton-growing also causes a severe reduction in soil quality through the impact of constant use of pesticides on soil organisms.
The extensive root system of bamboo and the fact that it is not uprooted during harvesting means bamboo actually helps preserve soil and prevents soil erosion. The bamboo plants root system creates an effective watershed, stitching the soil together along fragile river banks, deforested areas, and in places prone to mudslides. It also greatly reduces rain run-off.
8. PESTICIDES AND FERTILIZERS
A significant benefit of using bamboo as the organic base for textile fibers is that there is no need for pesticides or fertilizers when growing bamboo. Bamboo also contains a substance called bamboo-kun – an antimicrobial agent that gives the plant a natural resistance to pest and fungi infestation.
By contrast, 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. Many of these pesticides are hazardous and toxic. Fertilizers are also applied to cotton fields to increase growth rate and crop yields.