In the last article, we learnt about the most commonly seen form of bamboo fabrics, bamboo rayon. Generally, a very sustainable and environmentally friendly resource, the eco-friendliness of bamboo is compromised by the production process of bamboo rayon.
So, what are some alternatives?
One alternative would be Bamboo Linen. Unlike in viscose process, the bamboo does not goes through a chemicals process but instead goes through a mechanical process. This mechanical process is eco-friendly, bearing many similarities to the process used to convert hemp into linen.
In this process, woody parts of the bamboo plant are crushed. Then natural enzymes are used to further break down the bamboo to a mash-like substance. Fibers can be combed out into long strands. The bamboo fibers are collated and spun into yarn. This process helps the fabric to preserve the anti-bacterial and anti-fungal of qualities of bamboo. The process is environmentally friendly and does not require the use of harmful chemicals.
If Bamboo Linen is so great, why do manufacturers not produce more of it?
The downside of producing bamboo linen is that it is not as cost-effective as making bamboo rayon. The process of making bamboo linen is significantly more costly, time-consuming and labour intensive than the viscose process.
Tencel (or Bamboo Lyocell)
Another alternative would be Tencel. Though Tencel is considered a synthetic fabric, it manages to find a good middle ground between bamboo rayon and bamboo linen. Tencel is able to be efficient in its production cycle without compromising much of its eco-friendly properties, balancing the strengths of its two counterparts.
Tencel is actually is a branded version of the fiber, lyocell, the Tencel version created by an Austrian textile giant, Lenzing Fibers. As Tencel has been gaining popularity, lyocell has become more commonly referred to as Tencel. As lyocell is a sub-category under rayon, hence the process used to produce lyocell is similar to the viscose process.
How then is Tencel any better than rayon?
As mentioned above, Tencel undergoes a similar production process as compared to rayon. The woody pulp is dissolved in the solvent, the solution is cooled and eventually spun into a fiber. However, Tencel differentiates itself from rayon by utilising a closed-loop system. Unlike the open-loop system used in the production of rayon, the chemicals and water used in the production of Tencel are recycled or reused in this closed-loop system.
International retail-consulting expert, Adheer Bahulkar has given some commendations about the closed-loop system. “Tencel is also more environmentally friendly than other fabrics. It’s produced on a closed-loop system, in which “99% of the chemicals and solvents used in the process to break down the wood pulp are recovered and recycled with minimal waste and very low emissions”
Most of the chemicals used in the production of Tencel are collected to be reused and by-products are sold. Hence, this reduces the emission of harmful substances, lessening its negative impact on the environment.
The production of Tencel is able to remain cost efficient due to its similarities with the viscose process. However, by implementing a closed-loop system into its production, it helps to reduce its pollution on the environment, making the fabrics much more eco-friendly than its rayon counterpart. Tencel is a practical way of retaining the sustainability properties of bamboo industry where the demand for cheap and versatile fabrics is so high.