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 both of those textiles. Those two fibers are derived from sustainably grown trees without insecticides and pesticides (Unlike cotton which uses 25% of world’s pesticide). They grow with little water on 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 similar, but distinct, process used to transform the wood into textile fibers.
The supply chain
Before understanding these differences, it’s important to understand the entire chain of supply that transforms the bamboo or eucalyptus tree into fiber. To simplify everything, we have separated this chain in 6 steps:
- 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.
- Agriculture : in certified organic sustainable plantations in China. Sustainable bamboo harvesting does not affect wildlife.
- Dissolution : in China, by a company called TENBRO®. Requires a solvent called * Sodium hydroxide.
- Extrusion : in China, by TENBRO®.
- Spinning : in China, by TENBRO®.
- Knitting : in Montreal, Canada.
- Garment making : Fabric cutting and garment making by Respecterre Ham-Nord, Quebec, Canada.
- Agriculture : in certified FSC and PEFC sustainable plantations in South Africa. Sustainable eucalyptus harvesting does not affect wildlife.
- Dissolution : in Austria, by a company called *Lenzing. Requires a solvent called *NMMO. Done according to the Closed-loop process
- Extrusion : in Austria, by *Lenzing according to the *Closed-loop process
- Spinning : in Austria, by *Lenzing.
- Knitting : in Montreal, Canada.
- Garment making : Fabric cutting and garment making by Respecterre 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.
1. The solvent
Sodium Hydroxide (Solvent used for Bamboo)
As we learned above, sodium hydroxide is the solvent used for the transformation of viscose process. 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 to qualify this as an ecological process. It’s 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 not to be thrilled about. Admittedly, sodium hydroxide is also used extensively 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 clothes (the whole process is certified Oeko-Tex 100). 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)
NMMO (because nobody can pronounce “N-methylmorpholine N-oxide”) is a solvent used for the lyocell process. This product is non-toxic and biodegradable in addition to being an organic compound (which has not been obtained by a chemical union). It is, by far, a better choice than sodium hydroxide to dissolve wood into a textile fiber. You can read more on this website.
*Lyocell process : also called ” TENCEL® production process “, is the name of the transformation process which changes wood into textile fiber.
*TENCEL® : Trademarked name of the fiber developed by Lenzing whose raw material comes from eucalyptus and is processed according to the lyocell process.
2. Water recovery
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. Required blends
67% Viscose from Bambou, 27% Org. Cotton (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® doesn’t need to be blended. It is therefore, a more independent fiber. The remaining 8% are for the spandex. A compromise that makes it durable and comfortable garment.
Which 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 required blends. Prioritizing eucalyptus (TENCEL®) compared to bamboo (viscose from bamboo) becomes a choice that leads to more a responsible consumption. Bamboo is not inherently bad. Its solvent is used in several other industries and the bamboo does grow organically and producesthe most fiber per hectare.
But in a world where we must always strive for better ways of doing things, TENCEL® is a better choice. To learn more about TENCEL® you can explore Lenzing’s website. It’s worth spending 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 !
Written by Ugo Dutil :
I grew up in the ecovillage Cite Ecologique. I like this way of life that values human relationships, sustainable development and personal growth. I’ve been working with Respecterre since 2013. Minimalism, #slowfashion and moving towards sustainability, especially in textiles, fascinate me.