Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Eco Friendly Shopping The True Color Of Bamboo Fabric

Being eco friendly is the trend and when we do our eco friendly shopping, bamboo fabric seems like a good place to start, or is it?  Is shopping for bamboo fabric truly eco friendly? 

We must look beyond the eco friendly trend to tell the true color of bamboo fabric.

Why bamboo?   Well, perhaps, we are aware of cotton’s nasty growing process, not to mention the yuk that is put into the production process.  If you’re not aware about cotton, you can check out the Fiber Series to learn more. 

And, we surely are aware of the concerns about hemp even if they are ill conceived. 

Bamboo’s growing process, on the other hand, is about as sustainable as you can get.

Bamboo, being one of the fastest growing grasses there is.  It needs no help in that department.  While it’s growing at a couple of feet a day, it absorbs 5 times the greenhouse gasses as a stand of timber and releases 35% more oxygen into the air.

Of course, bamboo needs to pesticides or fertilizers or water, for that matter.  In fact, bamboo’s root system holds water in and acts like a shield against soil erosion.  This works really great on the banks of rivers by holding back the soil and preventing soil from silting up and polluting the water.

Bamboo has some wonderful qualities as a fabric, too, that is, once it becomes a fabric.  Getting it to that state of existence is a whole other story, but we go forward.

A purchase is made, we’re excited about our new buy, and our conscious is clear.  We’ve just saved a whale or something like that.

What we have missed is the typical ways of manufacturing bamboo fabric.  These chemical manufacturing processes cause considerable ecological damage. Turning the stock of bamboo into a fabric is where water is polluted, air is fouled and our health is compromised.

It’s here that our desire to be part of the eco friendly trend is strong.  Whether or not we have a conviction about the necessity for a better life on a surviving planet, we flock to being a greenie and look for the eco friendly tag. 

This is why we need to look closer. 

Most commonly, a chemical method is used to manufacture bamboo fabric. It’s done by taking the cellulose fiber of bamboo and turning it into a rayon-like fabric.  Because of its similarities to how rayon is manufactured from wood, bamboo manufactured this way is called bamboo rayon.

The hydrolysis alkalization process involves cooking the bamboo in strong chemical solvents (sodium hydroxide NaOH, aka caustic soda or lye) and carbon disulfide.  Then bleaching the bamboo is often included to get a whiter fabric and thus adds more chemicals to the process. 

Similarly, low levels of sodium hydroxide can cause irritation to the skin and to the eyes.   The NaOH is a strong alkaline base.  You’ll find this ingredient in Drano. 

I’m going to go out on the limb here, but I’m going to say that wrapping up in residues of  Drano isn’t something we stand in line for, is it?

Recently, the FTC go in on the act and said that if a fabric looks like rayon, acts like rayon and is processed like rayon, then it is rayon.  Calling it bamboo is misleading says the FTC, and it has been issuing warnings to about 78 retailers to stop labeling products as being bamboo.

Don’t get discouraged and take an even closer look. 

Because the qualities of bamboo fabric are so appealing, some manufacturers have taken up the gauntlet to find another way to turn this tall, woody stock into a silk-like fabric that is easier to care for and easier on the pocketbook, too.

This video will show you what to look for and what questions to ask.

Now, give yourself a hand for greening your lifestyle.  This time when you shop, the bells and whistles you will be looking for will be about health, clean air and clean water.  Now, that’s something to wrapped up in.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Look Beyond The Price Tag For Fabrics For Your Home

Take a look beyond the price tag that you spend for the fabrics for your home and you'll see some surprising things.  It might even make you mad.  Rather than getting mad, get informed and have the information you need when choosing fabrics for your home.

Taking a look beyond the price tag of the very popular polymer, polyester, that's in all our lives, may prod you into making some lifestyle changes that will protect your health, the health of your family and that of the planet.  

Polyester is very cheap to produce but not cheap for your health or the health of the planet.   There are many types of polyester.  The one used to make polyeser textiles, and oddly enough used to make plastic bottles too, is PET or polyethylene terephthalate. 

The production of PET requires lots and lots of oil, along with a heavy metal, antimony.  Antimony is an abundant metal found in the earth’s crust.  Antimony trioxide is used a lot for its flame retardant properties.  It’s also used as a catalyst in the production process of PET.

Antimony is toxic and has carcinogenic risks associated with it.  Even at low levels, as found in drinking water, antimony is suspected of causing endocrine disruption.  Not too long ago, it’s been established that PET leaches from plastic bottles, too.  Drink anyone?  

When it is used in the polyester production, antimony does get becomes locked to the polymer and in this locked state, doesn’t present a problem to living things, like ourselves. 

The problem comes in the dying process.  The high temperatures required for the dying process allow antimony to be released and leaches into the wastewater.

Cleaning up the wastewater takes another technology which isn’t always affordable or just plain ignored.  Even if clean up is done, the remainder is a toxic sludge which now has to be dealt with.  The sludge gets incinerated, creating plumes of toxic air or put into landfill. 

It never seems to end.

There are a few points to clear up.  Most of the many million barrels of oil used to create polyester is used for the textile, not for making the plastic bottles. 

Also, polyester is sometimes thought of being ‘green’ because it can be recycled…but can it?

Polyester production is very energy intensive thus producing greenhouse gases.  Recycling polyester requires more energy and adds to the emission of more greenhouse gases. 

The toxins in the polyester production process don’t just disappear after a product is made.   When polyester is recycled, antimony trioxide is released into the air, adding to the greenhouse gases.

Polyester can only be recycled only so many times before it looses its value, and although it postpones an early end in the landfill, it eventually ends up there.  While this is helpful, for sure, we really want a better way with a cradle to cradle goal for products.

With only 30% of plastic bottles being recycled of more than 40 billion produced each year, the other 70% goes directly into landfill.  There are difficulties within recycling process of PET, as well.

There are alternatives, believe it or not, and it’s a good thing, too.  After all, no one wants these toxins in their environment or drinking water.  We certainly don’t want to sit on toxic fabrics or have them on our backs either. 

There are companies that will take back your worn polyester clothing to recycle and churn into new products, and there are newer products that begin by being eco friendly in their production.  They have the added advantage of being able to be recycled indefinitely.  Very cool.

Learn more about greening your home, particularly where you lay your head down to rest.  In the meantime, when you launder polyester, switch from hot water to cold and line dry.

P.S.  Here are just a few names you may recognize, but did you know they were PET products?  Now you do.   Dacron, Tergal, Trevira, Mylar

Blue Planet Run: The Race to Provide Safe Drinking Water to the World