This started as a thread in MOFA (Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists) on Facebook, and quickly spilled over onto my personal page. I wound up in a thread about vegan fibers and wool alternatives and there were so many fiber artists exalting bamboo, it's eco-friendliness, and sustainability.
I have a bone to pick. I know that my textile background is heavily influenced by my experience with sustainable fibers, but a quick google search will relieve you of any thoughts that bamboo is eco-friendly.
My claim is this: Bamboo is only environmentally friendly when manufactured in a regulated closed loop system. Most is not.
The chemicals used to manufacture bamboo are incredibly toxic in the quantities at manufacturing scale. In places like China where its manufactured, many of the factories have few regulations on child labor, proper ventilation and respiratory equipment, as well as safe disposal for the toxic waste produced.
Bamboo is insanely far from eco-friendly.
What you should feel good about is that the growing of bamboo is strictly regulated, as well as being a strong sense of cultural pride for bamboo farmers. The bamboo forests are carefully tended, and of course bamboo requires no additional irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides, or herbicides to grow.
However, unless the manufacturing side of things is improved, I still strongly consider bamboo a net negative on environmental impact. Better options would be lyocell or hemp fiber.
So, what do we do with this information?
If you choose to use bamboo, look for companies that manufacture using closed-loop systems. I'm currently working on building a list of yarn and textile manufacturers and where they fall on the eco-friendly manufacturing spectrum, but it's always good to do your own research. Don't be afraid to reach out to yarn companies. As manufacturers, it is their job to be able to provide consumers with this knowledge, and the more we press companies for sustainable options, the more they will listen. So just ask!
If you're looking for a more reliable staple, we're going to assume that wool is out of the question for valid reasons, such as a lanolin allergy. Wool is more often than not grown, shorn, and processed humanely, with low impact manufacturing. Other non-wool fibers include cotton, lyocell, tencel, silk, linen, hemp, and synthetic fibers.
*gets down from soapbox*