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Is Bamboo Yarn Really Sustainable?

Bamboo isn’t a material that springs to mind when thinking about yarn. More than likely, HiyaHiya’s Bamboo Interchangeable Needles come to mind! However, with sustainability and the environment increasingly important in the knitting industry, bamboo yarn has come to be thought as a sustainable alternative.

Transforming bamboo into yarn can be done chemically or mechanically. The mechanical process has very little environmental impact, involving crushing the bamboo and using natural enzymes to create the cellulose which is spun into fibre. The chemical process is much more complicated with serious consequences on the environment.
bamboo yarn
True to form, most of the bamboo yarn is processed chemically. The process reduces the bamboo down to a molecular level and then is reformed using a sodium hydroxide solution at around 20°C. The resulting bamboo cellulose is forced through spinneret nozzles into a diluted sulphuric acid that hardens the solution into viscose fibre threads that can then be spun into yarn.

Whether bamboo yarn is good for the environment is therefore controversial. The promotion of bamboo yarn as sustainable is misleading when most of of the fibre available is produced chemically. The lack of regulation in the production of bamboo yarn allows for these practices to continue to destructive levels.
With China holding a monopoly on bamboo agriculture, it’s become somewhat of a cash crop as its popularity as a sustainable crop increases. The result is more farmers growing bamboo, decreasing the biodiversity of their crops, meaning pesticides must now be used to keep harmful pests away. This in itself has become harmful to the environment, and increasingly harmful to the fauna that depend on the bamboo, most famously the panda.

bamboo yarn
The problem lies in how we produce bamboo yarn as it’s clear there is a sustainable approach that could make bamboo yarn replace cotton and polyester which both contribute to the environmental problems we face. Bamboo grows fast, has a yield ten times greater than cotton, and thrives without pesticides and fertilisers. As a grass, bamboo is self-propogating, not requiring to be replanted which conserves the topsoil.

The answer, therefore, lies in an international effort to regulate the production of bamboo yarn so it is both farmed and produced with sustainability in mind. While bamboo yarn has the potential to be an ethical choice of yarn, in its current state it simply isn’t.