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Is Bamboo A Healthy Alternative to Cotton?

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In the quest for sustainable fabrics and textiles for everyday items like clothing, bedding, bath and table linens, some look for an alternative to cotton.

Bamboo is one option. The plant grows quickly, several feet a day in some instances. For those who have planted bamboo as an ornamental in their gardens, they know this first hand. In fact, it's an invasive species here in the states that can push out native vegetation when it grows prolifically and can be difficult to control once its established and well rooted.  

So is bamboo a fiber we should be embracing? First, let's consider how bamboo and cotton grows in its natural state.  Bamboo is a tall woody grass that grows in the form of round hollow stalks with leaves along its length whereas the cotton plant grows in short bushes which shoot out puffs of soft fibers nestled inside  pods. When you examine the two, there is no question which plant naturally yields a material that most resembles fibers used to weave cloth.

And therein lies the rub. In order for bamboo to be processed into textiles, a variety of chemicals and mechanical treatment is required. Bamboo that may have grown organically and free of chemical intervention is a different story than bamboo that's been processed into shirts, towels or any other household item. 

The process of turning bamboo stalks into a pliable cloth begins by chipping the bamboo into shards which are soaked in chemicals until a pulp is formed. The pulp is dried in sheets and then broken down once again in order to be spun into fibers which are then used to create fabric. The final processed bamboo product bears virtually no resemblance to the plant that grew from the earth. 

Bamboo may grow fast and sound like a healthy alternative to synthetic fibers or even cotton but one should consider the health and environmental effects of transforming this hard and fibrous plant into usable cloth. There is nothing wrong with bamboo the plant itself. It's the process used and it's also worth nothing that most cotton products are made with conventional cotton, which requires a lot of water to cultivate and is often heavily sprayed with pesticides.  

Choosing the eco-friendly option when shopping is never easy and requires a lot of research. Doing our best to educate ourselves, sharing that information and then using that knowledge has a positive impact on the planet. If you're searching for a good alternative, please consider buying goods made with organic cotton when given the option. Often what's good for our health is also good for the environment too. To date, I've added organic sheets, pillowcases and reusable makeup wipes to my home. I'm working to add clothing and table napkins in the future.

What are your thoughts on bamboo products? Have you purchased organic cotton products? 

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