Initially I thought I might make my towels from bamboo: it’s super soft, absorbent and sweat-wicking.
On the surface it has excellent eco-friendly credentials (although certified organic bamboo does not exist, yet). It is the fastest growing grass and requires no fertilisers or pesticides. It self-generates from its own roots and is biodegradable.
But look into how bamboo is produced, and processed, and its sustainability claims are called into question.
There is little information available about how intensively bamboo is harvested, or the ethos around land clearing. And whilst it doesn’t NEED pesticides that’s not to say they aren’t being used so as to increase yields and incomes.*
Turning rough bamboo grass and shoots into a usable fabric requires intensive processing using highly toxic chemicals. Whilst it’s true that bamboo requires very little water to grow this is not the case during the manufacturing process.*
There are two main methods for turning bamboo into a fabric. The fabric most suitable for clothing and bed linen is “bamboo rayon”, most commonly made via the “viscose process”: a highly intensive chemical process (which uses huge quantities of water). Chemicals such as caustic soda and carbon disulfide are used: both highly toxic and a risk to human health. (This process also removes bamboo’s antimicrobial properties: an oft-touted benefit).*
Around 50% of rayon production’s hazardous waste cannot be recaptured and reused. Recently, wet processors have had to improve their chemical management and waste treatment practices, so at least this waste should no longer be dumped directly into the environment.*
So, for the reasons highlighted in the first two images below I have chosen to use cotton certified by the leading global organic textile standard (who, at time of writing, will not certify bamboo textiles, even if they have been produced with organically grown bamboo).