Bamboo vs. Eucalyptus
If you’re looking for an eco-friendly, sustainable fabric, you might consider Bamboo or Eucalyptus. You’re on the right track, so let’s unpack each fiber’s similarities and differences.
Where Eucalyptus Lyocell and Bamboo viscose are similar
- Bamboo viscose and Eucalyptus Lyocell are manufactured from sustainable sources, i.e. Bamboo and Eucalyptus trees.
- Bamboo and Eucalyptus trees don’t require much water to grow, nor do they require pesticides or insecticides.
- From a quality perspective, both are similar: soft, breathable, and smooth.
- Both Bamboo and Eucalyptus fibers are OEKO-TEX certified, which means the end products are completely safe for the skin/body.
Where Eucalyptus Lyocell and Bamboo viscose differ
Transforming bamboo from a tree to a fabric is where things can get a little messy.
Bamboo viscose production
There are two processes to convert bamboo into fabric: mechanical and chemical. Most bamboo is made chemically, so chances are your sheets, pillowcases, and T-shirts are chemically-derived. Viscose is the name of the process used to chemically transform bamboo into fiber.
The viscose process begins with the extraction of cellulose from bamboo wood pulp. The wood is broken down into tiny chunks, and soaked in sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide to remove the cellulose. (BTW, the CDC classifies carbon disulfide as a highly flammable neurotoxin and workers exposed to it are more prone to psychosis, heart attacks, and liver damage. 😳)
After that, the bamboo is compressed into sheets and pushed through a spinneret, which transforms the cellulose into strands. These strands are dipped in a vat of sulfuric acid to create filaments where they are spun into yarn that can be woven into fabric.
Overall, the viscose process can use more than 13 toxic chemicals, as well as vast amounts of energy and water. This is further compounded by the use of toxic dyes, anti-pilling, and finishing chemicals that are often used to give bamboo a soft, silky feel. The waste from this process––which can be as much as 50% of the solvents used––can seep back into the soil and water, causing significant environmental damage.
The Eucalyptus Lyocell production
Similarly, the Lyocell process uses water and solvents to break down the Eucalyptus wood. The difference is Lyocell uses a closed-loop process which means that nearly 100% of the water and solvents used are recovered and reused again. The result is better water management and nearly zero waste.
Additionally, the solvent used in the lyocell process is called N-methylmorpholine N-oxide, or NMMO, which is generally considered less harmful to the environment and factory workers than the solvents used to dissolve bamboo wood. And because the lyocell process reuses nearly 100% of the solvents, there’s virtually no waste.
OEKO-TEX only certifies the end product
The International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile and Leather Ecology, or (mercifully) OEKO-TEX for short, ensures that all textiles and leather are safe for humans and the environment. There’s one small catch, though. OEKO-TEX only refers to the end product, meaning the fabric. They don’t look at the process, which is where the environmental damage is often done.
While both Bamboo and Eucalyptus fabric are OEKO-TEX certified, only Eucalyptus Lyocell uses a closed-loop process, significantly minimizing its environmental impact.
Most Bamboo fabric is made in China
The biggest exporter of bamboo fabric is China. Sure, it’s cheaper to make things in China, but that savings comes at a cost, thanks in part to China’s lax––or non-existent––environmental and human rights standards.
This results in a production process that may be more environmentally damaging and ethically compromising than necessary and raises a lot of questions. Is the bamboo grown on arable land? Is wastewater managed properly? Are workers paid fairly and treated well?
There’s little to no oversight or transparency at these factories, so we may never know the answers.
S&G’s Eucalyptus Lyocell is responsibly made
For our part, S&G’s Eucalyptus trees are grown on non-arable land in Canada, Sweden, South Africa, and India, and manufactured in India and Bahrain. Non-arable land is land that's not suitable for growing crops, so our trees aren't taking up valuable space. The farms we use are biodiverse and managed under the eye of an NGO called Canopy, which specifically works with companies to protect surrounding natural forests and environments.
Taking care of our employees
As for our manufacturing workers, they’re full-time employees who work 8-hour shifts. They get paid above-average wages, they receive free healthcare and education, and they get free housing close to work.
We visit the plants a few times a year to make sure everything is on the up-and-up and everyone is happy.
So, what’s the responsible choice?
That’s the 64 billion dollar question, isn’t it? This stuff is dizzying. It requires a lot of research, soul-searching, and hair-pulling to decide what’s best for your family and the planet. At S&G, we try to make products that easily tick both boxes while maintaining 100% transparency around our entire process.
Bamboo sounds great on paper but when you dig down it’s clear there’s a potential dark side to the production process. A dark side that may involve untold amounts of water, harsh chemicals, and devastating environmental consequences.