The buzz around sustainability is on constant rise and it’s for good. We are striving to constantly reduce our environmental footprint – aiming to create an eco-friendlier future. Our awareness around the choices we make, even when it comes to something as simple as the fabric we wear, can have a significant impact when multiplied by human population worldwide. Bamboo and cotton are two popular choices in the textile industry, getting a lot of attention and hype - but which is the better option in terms of a holistic approach to sustainability and future usage? Let's explore the facts.
Cultivation and Resource Efficiency:
Bamboo: Bamboo is an unbeatable champion in terms of resource efficiency. Resource efficiency is using the Earth's limited resources in a sustainable manner while minimizing impacts on the environment. It's a fast-growing plant that requires minimal water and pesticides.
Bamboo can grow up to 39 inches in a day, making it one of the most renewable resources on the planet.
It doesn't need replantation after harvesting, as it regenerates naturally very speedily. This makes bamboo a top choice for those who are concerned about resource consumption and conservation.
Cotton: Cotton, on the other hand requires a resource-intensive cultivation. Conventional cotton farming requires heavy irrigation, often in areas which are anyways prone to drought due to soil quality required. Additionally, it often involves the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers for high yield. The rise in awareness about Organic cotton has led to its availability in market - which is a more sustainable alternative than conventional cotton, but it still requires a significant amount of water – making it a high resource consuming raw material.
Processing and Chemicals:
Bamboo: The processing of bamboo into fabric can be opted to make it more eco-friendly than that of cotton. Bamboo can be mechanically processed with minimal chemical use through a closed-loop system. The closed loop system adheres to strict rules regarding the handling of chemicals involved which are recovered, reused, and recycled in the procedure and hence the process is now a circular system. There is absolutely no dumping of any chemicals – making it a conscious choice.
Cotton: The production of conventional cotton fabric involves heavy chemical usage, ranging from pesticides and fertilizers in the field for cultivation and yield to dyes and finishes in the factory for the look and feel of final product. The onset in use and awareness of Organic cotton and natural dye alternatives reduces chemical exposure, but there is room for improvement in this area.
Performance and Wearability:
Bamboo: Bamboo fabric is soft, breathable, and has moisture-wicking properties. It's a popular choice for casual wear, kids wear, activewear and undergarments. However, it can be less durable and may not withstand to heavy usage or frequent washing.
Cotton: Cotton is a versatile and durable fabric that is comfortable, absorbs moisture and has been a staple in the textile industry for centuries. Whereas in compared to bamboo it, cotton can be less breathable and has low absorption and hence may not be the best choice for highly active individuals.
Bamboo: Bamboo fabric is completely biodegradable i.e.; it breaks down naturally when discarded – dissolving into the soil without leaving traces of its presence as long as further toxic dyes have not been added, which gives them a slight advantage over petroleum-based synthetic fabrics. This makes it an eco-friendly choice at the end of its lifecycle.
Cotton: Cotton generally takes longer to decompose in comparison to bamboo, especially if it contains synthetic components like blends with polyester which are common in industry. But in itself it is a biodegradable fibre and can be processed to degrade faster.
Bamboo fabric seems to have several advantages over conventional cotton due to qualities like rapid growth, minimal resource requirements, and biodegradability. This makes Bamboo clothing a promising choice for new aware and eco-conscious consumers. However, it's essential to consider the specific context of usage, requirement and purpose of the fabric. For example, bamboo may excel in kids wear, activewear and undergarments, but cotton might always remain a reliable and durable option for various applications in textile industry like in Industrial, medical, low usage, home furshinings industries as a whole. Bamboo has such deep root systems and is merely cut, the soil remains undisturbed by machinery during harvesting. Bamboo absorbs five times more carbon and produces 35 times more oxygen than a similar-sized stand of trees.
Don't be bamboozled by bamboo's claims of sustainability. Sadly, it's not that simple, and until all bamboo fabric production moves to a closed-loop design, the benefits gained by the fast-growing crop are largely eroded by its toxic production process.
The future of sustainable fashion lies in a mix of research and development around materials integrated with responsible production practices. Ultimately, the choice should align with your values, needs, locality and the environmental footprint of your usage. The impact you wish to support as a whole is important – because sustainability is a journey with multiple things to learn, unlearn, discover and implement. As we navigate towards a more sustainable future, being informed correctly and continuously about our choices is a crucial first step in the right direction.