Bamboo (bamboo from viscose) and eucalyptus (or TENCEL®) are two similar textile fibers in the way they are grown and processed. At Respecterre, we work with textiles that are made with these fibers. Both are sustainably grown trees without insecticides and pesticides (Unlike non-organic cotton which uses 25% of world’s pesticide) that grow with little water in lands that are not suitable for agriculture. The resulting fabrics have similar properties in terms of softness, durability and quality. However, there are three significant differences from the similar, but distinct, process used to transform the wood into a textile fiber.

– – – – – – – – – – The supply chain – – – – – – – – – –

Before understanding these differences, it is important to understand the entire chain of supply that transforms the bamboo or eucalyptus tree into fiber and ultimately clothing. To simplify everything, we have separated this chain in 6 steps:

  1. Agriculture
  2. *Dissolution
  3. *Extrusion
  4. Spinning
  5. Knitting
  6. Garment making

*Dissolution : action that transforms the wood into wood pulp. This action requires a solvent.
*Extrusion : action that transforms wood pulp into fiber. Wikipedia definition.

Illustration of the various stages of transformation in the lyocell process used to make the TENCEL® fiber.

Illustration of the various stages of transformation in the lyocell process used to make the TENCEL® fiber.

*Lyocell process : also called ” TENCEL® production process “, is the name of the transformation process which changes wood into textile fiber.
*TENCEL®name of the fiber developed by Lenzing whose raw material comes from eucalyptus and is processed according to the lyocell process. Trademark.

– – – – – – – – – – Viscose from bamboo – – – – – – – – – –

For the bamboo we used at Respecterre, here is more info on the whole supply chain. From the harvest of the plant ? to ? the clothing you wear :

  1. Agriculture : in certified organic sustainable plantations in China. Sustainable bamboo harvesting does not affect wildlife.
  2. Dissolution : in China, by a company called TENBRO®. Requires a solvent called * Sodium hydroxide.
  3. Extrusion : in China, by TENBRO®.
  4. Spinning : in China, by TENBRO®.
  5. Knotting : in Montreal.
  6. Garment making : Fabric cutting and garment making in our shop in Ham-Nord, Quebec, Canada.

*Sodium Hydroxide : solvent classified as corrosive (according to the EU classification) used in the viscose process. Wikipedia definition.

– – – – – – – – – – TENCEL® from eucalyptus – – – – – – – – – –

For the eucalyptus we used at Respecterre, here is more info on the whole supply chain. From the harvest of the plant ? to ? the clothing you wear :

  1. Agriculture : in certified FSC and PEFC sustainable plantations in South Africa. Sustainable eucalyptus harvesting does not affect wildlife.
  2. Dissolution : in Austria, by a company named *Lenzing. Requires a solvent called *NMMO. Done according to the Closed-loop process
  3. Extrusion : in Austria, by *Lenzing. Selon le. Done according to the *Closed-loop process
  4. Spinning : in Austria, by *Lenzing.
  5. Knitting : in Montreal.
  6. Garment making : Fabric cutting and garment making in our shop in Ham-Nord, Quebec, Canada.

*NMMO : NMMO – N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide is an aqueous, non-toxic, biodegradable, organic solvent. Wikipedia definition.
*Lenzing : With more than 75 years of experience in the production of high-quality, #man-made cellulose fibers, the Lenzing Group is the only company worldwide combining the manufacturing of all three generations of man-made cellulose fibers on an large industrial scale under one roof – from the classic viscose fibers to modal and lyocell (TENCEL®) fibers.  https://www.lenzing.com/en/home.html
*Closed-loop process : Transformation process which recovers and reuses 99% of NMMO and water. Learn more.

Illustration of the closed-loop process which recovers water and NMMO solvent used up to 99%.

Illustration of the closed-loop process which recovers water and NMMO solvent used up to 99%.

 

– – – – – – – – – – 3 Differences – – – – – – – – – – –

 

1. The solvent

Sodium Hydroxide (Solvent used for Bamboo)

As we learned above, sodium hydroxide is the solvent used for the transformation of the bamboo fiber. As you can see on this web page, this solvent is classified as corrosive according to EU classification system. Although no residue of this product remains in the fiber after the procedure, it remains weird qualify this as an ecological process. It certainly is not as harmful as the 25% of the world’s pesticides are dumped directly into the environment to grow conventional cotton, but it’s still something to not be thrilled about. Admittedly, sodium hydroxide is also used extensively (according to the free encyclopedia Wikipedia) in the paper industry, in soap and detergent industry, for water treatment and many others. Sodium hydroxide is not a toxic product that remains in the fiber and hurts our health or well-being of our environment, when treated responsibly. It is a product of our traditional industry. Yes, we need to aim to replace it, but can also be used without damage to our environment.

NMMO (Solvent used for Eucalyptus)

N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide or NMMO (because nobody is able to say “N-methylmorpholine N-oxide” without reading syllable like a child learning to read) is a solvent used for the transformation of the eucalyptus fiber. This product is non-toxic and biodegradable in addition to being an organic compound (which has not been obtained by a chemical union). This means that if it is dumped nature by accident, it won’t (most likely) damage the environment. It is, by far, a better choice than sodium hydroxide to proceed with the dissolution of wood into a textile fiber. You can read more on this website.

2. Recovered water

Viscose process (bamboo)

The viscose process is the name of the method used for transformation of the bamboo fiber. Hence the name “Viscose from Bamboo”. This process includes the dissolution and extrusion. To dissolve the wood, it is necessary to use water and solvent. As we know, water is a very valuable resource in this world. But unlike the lyocell process, we do not really know how water is used in the viscose process. Perhaps responsibly, maybe not. We do not have any guarantee or certification for this.

Lyocell process (eucalyptus)

Lyocell process used for transformation of eucalyptus fiber was designed according to the “Closed loop” process which guarantees that 99% of the water and solvent used are recovered and reused again. This results in a better water management and aims to preserve this natural resource we all need to live.

3. The 27% of organic cotton needed the blend with bamboo

67% Viscose from Bambou, 27% Org. Coton (Bamboo)

In order to have a final fabric that is more interesting to work and wear as clothing, bamboo yarn and is often mixed with a little over a quarter of organic cotton. This practice gives the opportunity to have a fabric which doen’t shrinks or expands after washing. Having to always have to add an organic cotton blend with bamboo makes this fiber dependent of another industry. And despite our best efforts to avoid it, we are sometimes forced to buy a fabric whose yarn was made with 27% cotton that is not organic. The remaining 6% are for the spandex. A compromise that makes it durable and comfortable clothing.

92% TENCEL® (Eucalyptus)

Unlike the bamboo viscose fiber, the TENCEL® fiber (made with eucalyptus) does not need to be mixed with organic cotton. It is therefore, a more independant fiber. The remaining 8% are for the spandex. A compromise that makes it durable and comfortable clothing.

 

– – – – – – – – – – What to choose? – – – – – – – – – –

Bamboo and eucalyptus both grow sustainably and responsibly. They are both mainly knitted (in the case of Respecterre) in Quebec and assembled in Quebec in our shop in Ham-Nord, in an ecovillage. The differences between these two fibers is in the solvent necessary for processing the wood into fiber as well as the water required for that process and the 27% organic cotton necessary to blend with the bamboo yarn so that the fabric does not shrink in the washing process. Prioritizing eucalyptus (TENCEL®) compared to bamboo (viscose from bamboo) becomes a choice that leads to more a responsible consumption. Bamboo is not inherently evil. Its solvent is used in several other industries and the bamboo does grow organically. But in a world where we must always strive for better ways of doing things, to avoid corrosive products and water waste, TENCEL® is a better choice. To learn more about TENCEL® you can explore Lenzing’s website. It’s worth it to spend a few minutes.

To see Respecterre products made with TENCEL®, you will find details of the fiber on the page of each product if you scroll down a little. Below “ECO-FIBER USED TO MAKE THIS PRODUCT”

Basically, the bamboo viscose is not bad, but the TENCEL® is a better choice !

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About the author Ugo Dutil: Growing up in the ecovillage “La Cite Ecologique” from 1 to 11, I decided to go back and live there when I was 25 years old. I like this way of life that allows us to prioritize human relationships over material possessions. I’ve been working with Respecterre since 2013. Voluntary simplicity and responsible consumption, especially in textiles, fascinates me.