Are bamboo socks better for the environment or should you steer clear?
In some circles bamboo has been heralded as a wonder material. It’s renewable, sustainable, fast-growing, doesn’t need fertilisers or pesticides and requires little or no irrigation.
However, despite many winning qualities, turning bamboo into bamboo viscose or rayon is a chemical process that can be damaging to both people and the environment. And it is this part of the process that many people refer to when claiming that bamboo is not the eco-hero it might at first appear to be.
There are also concerns that despite the fact that bamboo grows in the wild without any need for fertilisers or pesticides farmers are beginning to use these to increase their crop and make bamboo more valuable on a commercial scale.
Likewise while bamboo does not need to be replanted year on year like other crops and instead re-grows, there are concerns that areas are being cleared in order to plant bamboo which is having a negative rather than a positive impact on the environment.
Bamboo vs Cotton
Commercially grown cotton used vast amounts of pesticides and fertiliser but even compared to organic cotton bamboo comes out on top in the farming stakes. This is primarily due to the differences in the way the two crops grow.
Firstly bamboo tends to be grown and harvested in areas with adequate rainfall and thus does not require irrigation. Cotton on the other hand, even when organically grown, is a very thirsty crop, needing over 1000 litres of water to grow enough cotton to make a t-shirt.
On top of that commercially grown cotton, even that which is grown organically is replanted each year, exposing the soil and risking degradation and erosion. Bamboo, on the other hand, is harvested by hand leaving the roots in place, thus protecting the soil. Harvesting the right % of the bamboo actually encourages growth with young and old shoots growing side by side.
So it’s pretty clear that during the growing face bamboo is a better crop for the environment. And it’s undoubtedly a very renewable resource using it for building, cooking utensils, chopping boards, and furniture which require minimal further processing.
However, the chemicals needed to turn bamboo into socks can have a negative environmental impact. The problem is, so can the chemicals used to process cotton and other fabrics.
In conclusion, as with most things, whether or not bamboo socks are better for the environment depends on a number of factors.
As with any item of clothing you buy it is not just a question of the material used but how it was grown, how it was processed, where it was made, how it’s packaged and how it got to you. Buying from a company that is transparent about the whole of the supply chain and is invested in ensuring that the least environmental impact and best social conditions for workers is vital if bamboo is going to be an eco-friendly option.
Bamboo can be processed in one of three ways. Mechanical production is the most natural but does not produce fabric of the same softness as a chemical process.
There are then two potential chemical processes. A closed-loop system and a system that produces high quantities of chemical waste that is damaging to the environment. So ensuring the correct production method has been used is vital in determining how eco-friendly the bamboo you are wearing really is.
With all that in mind, we take a look at the best bamboo socks here.