Is Bamboo Eco-Friendly? Pros and Cons of this Renewable Resource

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So. Here it is!

After over a year of an up-and-down relationship with bamboo, I’ve finally got to the bottom of all the burning questions.

Bamboo is a resource that has many benefits. It’s renewable, durable, and stylish. But is bamboo eco-friendly?

It certainly is the new darling of the eco-friendly movement…but does it live up to the almost mythical status some in the green (and traditional) media would have you believe?

Yes. Well. Kind of. Most of the time.

There…all sorted…enjoy the rest of your day! 😁

Seriously though, bamboo is incredible when used for the proper application and manufactured in the right way.

Read on to get my definitive take on all things bamboo…warts, and all!

Bamboo: An Introduction

close up of bamboo plants

Bamboo is a type of grass native to many parts of Asia, Africa, and South America.

There are over 1,000 different species of bamboo, with the majority being found in Southeast Asia.

The most common type of bamboo used for construction and manufacturing is Moso bamboo, which is native to China.

Bamboo has been used by humans for centuries. For everything from building homes and bridges to creating musical instruments and works of art.

However, in recent years, bamboo has become increasingly popular as a sustainable material for various applications, from flooring and furniture to clothing and accessories.

Bamboo: The Eco-Warrior Grass

Bamboo is often hailed as a miracle plant, and it’s easy to see why.

Here are a few reasons why bamboo has been making sustainability waves over the past decade or so.

benefits that make bamboo eco-friendly

Super Strong

Bamboo is one of the strongest and most durable materials on the planet. It has a higher compressive strength than concrete and a tensile strength that rivals steel!

This makes bamboo an ideal material for construction and a wide range of other applications.

Quick Growing And Renewable

Unlike many other trees, which can take decades to reach maturity, bamboo can grow up to four feet in just 24 hours. This makes bamboo an extremely renewable resource.

It can be harvested regularly without damaging the environment. Harvested bamboo can regrow from its own system of roots. No replating is required.

Low Maintenance

Bamboo is a very low-maintenance crop. It does not require pesticides or fertilizers, and it can be grown in a wide range of climates and soil types.

Thanks to its deep roots and ability to prevent erosion, bamboo is often used to rehabilitate degraded soils.

Low Water Footprint

Bamboo is a very efficient user of water. It can grow in areas with as little as 20 inches of rainfall per year and requires far less water than other crops, such as cotton.

Versatile

Bamboo can be used for many applications, from construction and manufacturing to food and fuel.

It’s also a sustainable alternative to other materials, such as plastic, metal, and wood.

Low Carbon Footprint

Bamboo is highly efficient at absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.

According to the Guardian, bamboo produces 35% more oxygen than trees and can absorb 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year.

Bamboo: The Dark Side

Despite its many advantages, bamboo does have a few potential drawbacks. Here are a few things to consider before your next bamboo purchase.

Invasive

While bamboo forests are often praised for their ability to regenerate and rehabilitate degraded soils quickly, they can also be very invasive.

Some bamboo species are classified as ’invasive weeds’ in many parts of the world.

Difficult To Harvest

Harvesting bamboo can be tricky, especially if you’re trying to do it without the help of machinery.

The best time to harvest bamboo is during the dry season when the stems are solid and less likely to break.

However, this can be a problem for farmers in areas with high rainfall, as the dry season may not last long enough for the bamboo to reach maturity.

Expensive

Quality bamboo can be expensive, especially if you’re buying it from a country where it’s not native and have to pay shipping costs.

Not Native To The U.S.

Financial cost aside, there is also an environmental impact of shipping bamboo from China (where the vast majority of the world’s bamboo is grown) to the U.S.

Monoculture Bamboo Plantations

Bamboo is often grown in monocultures (all other plants, etc., are removed from the bamboo forest), which can lead to biodiversity loss.

When bamboo is grown in large plantations, it can crowd out other plants and animals.

Some Pest Issues

Bamboo is not fully immune to pests and diseases.

For example, the bamboo caterpillar has recently become a problem in China.

Sustainable Uses Of Bamboo

examples of bamboo products

Construction

Bamboo is slowly growing in popularity as a construction material in the U.S., but we still have a long way to go to catch up with the East.

In countries like China, unprocessed bamboo is used instead of timber and steel.

Bamboo is a popular material for housing construction due to its lightweight nature, incredible strength, and abundant supply.

Bathroom Essentials

Thanks to its waterproof and antibacterial properties, bamboo makes an excellent replacement for wood and plastic in bathroom essentials, such as razors, toothbrushes, and toothbrush heads.

Sustainable Superfood

Move over, quinoa. There’s a new superfood in town, and it’s here to stay.

Bamboo shoots are not only delicious but also offer numerous health benefits:

  • Good source of potassium.
  • High in fiber. Great for gut health.
  • Rich in niacin, thiamin, vitamin B-6, and riboflavin.
  • Reduces cholesterol.
  • Low in carbohydrates. Help support those on a low-carb diet.

Raw bamboo shoots contain cyanogenic glycosides, so always ensure that you cook them before consumption.

My favorite way to cook bamboo shoots is to toss them in a stir fry with lots of sesame oil!

Flooring

Bamboo flooring is a sustainable and beautiful alternative to hardwood floors.

It’s durable, easy to clean, and comes in various colors and styles to suit any home.

Make sure that if your bamboo flooring is held together with glue, it doesn’t contain formaldehyde, melamine, or other nasties.

Dinnerware

Bamboo dinnerware is becoming more popular and slowly replacing more traditional options on dinner tables of my fellow tree huggers up and down the land.

There are two things to bear in mind, though, before dishing up dinner on a bamboo plate:

  1. Most, if not all, bamboo dinnerware is hand wash only.
  2. Look for bamboo dinnerware glued together with natural adhesives (such as natural cashew tree resin) rather than glues full of formaldehyde and melamine.

Phone Cases

Looking to protect your device from drops and spills?

Ditch the wood and plastic and go for a bamboo phone case instead.

Yep…they’re a thing now!

Toilet Paper

As discussed earlier, bamboo plants are seriously sustainable when compared to trees. So, it stands to reason that most paper products could be replaced with a sustainable bamboo option.

This is undoubtedly the case with toilet paper!

Despite its softness, bamboo toilet paper is actually stronger than standard toilet paper. Your tush and the planet will thank you.

Mattresses

Bamboo is hypoallergenic and naturally resistant to bacteria, mold, and mildew, making it ideally suited to mattress applications.

Bamboo can produce some wonderfully comfortable, naturally temperature-regulating bamboo mattresses when mixed with natural latex.

Bedding

When produced by ethical companies, using eco-friendly closed-loop manufacturing practices, bamboo is a perfect material for bed sheets.

Pajamas

Bamboo can be an excellent material for pajamas.

It’s soft, naturally absorbent, and keeps you cool and comfortable all night.

A Less Sustainable Use Of Bamboo

Fabric

Ok. I know I mentioned bedding and pajamas above. Let me explain.

When done ethically and sustainably with minimal chemicals, bamboo fabric can be a sustainable snuggly wonder.

However, greenwashing is rife in industrial textile production, and, unfortunately, ethical and sustainable bamboo fabric is still the exception and not the rule.

Turning tough bamboo fibers into silky bamboo clothes is not easy and often involves a lot of questionable chemicals, such as sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide.

This is why Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) don’t certify chemically processed bamboo fiber or fabric (even when made with organically grown bamboo).

Mechanically processed bamboo fabric (also called bamboo linen) is much more sustainable because it’s produced using a chemical-free process. However, the end product is rough and not very popular with consumers.

You can read my detailed take on all things bamboo clothing and sustainable fabric here.

Grow Your Own Bamboo

You can buy bamboo plants at most garden centers, or you can find them online.

Once you have your bamboo plant, all you need to do is water it and give it some sunlight. In no time, you’ll have a beautiful bamboo forest in your backyard!

There are some things to keep in mind when growing bamboo, however:

  • It grows very quickly, so make sure you have enough space.
  • As mentioned earlier, bamboo is invasive. Once it takes root, it’s hard to get rid of. If you’re not careful, your bamboo might take over your entire yard!

Despite these potential drawbacks, bamboo is a great plant to grow. It’s easy to care for and a beautiful addition to any yard.

Also, if you’re planning to grow bamboo in your yard, be sure to research the local laws and regulations first.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Bamboo More Sustainable Than Plastic?

Yes, bamboo is more sustainable than plastic. Bamboo grows quickly and doesn’t require harsh chemicals or pesticides to thrive, making it a much more eco-friendly option than traditional plastics made from oil and other petrochemicals.

Can I Recycle Bamboo Products?

Bamboo is a grass, not wood, so you cannot always recycle it with wood products and wood pulp.

However, some companies are working on developing recycling processes for bamboo products. Untreated bamboo products will happily break down on your backyard compost heap, though.

Is Bamboo More Eco-Friendly Than Cotton?

As things currently stand in the textile industry, I feel the answer to this question is two-fold.

Bamboo fabric is generally a more eco-friendly material than traditional cotton. Organic cotton is generally more eco-friendly than bamboo fabric.

How Long Does Bamboo Take To Decompose?

This depends on numerous factors, such as the thickness of the bamboo and if there are any other materials present (such as coatings, etc.).

However, given the right conditions, a piece of untreated natural bamboo will decompose in around eight weeks.

Does Bamboo Make Good Compost?

According to ABC Australia, “Monastery Bamboo (Thyrostachys siamensis), like all bamboos, produces an amazing amount of leaf litter, so it’s very wise not to put it next to a gutter. It makes fantastic compost, and you can rake it up and use it on beds as mulch”.

How Do I Keep My Neighbors Bamboo From Spreading?

Bamboo has no respect for boundaries, but there are steps you can take.

According to jacksonville.com, “because it’s virtually impossible to stop bamboo from spreading, the American Bamboo Society recommends installing a concrete or fabric barrier that works like an underground fence. Also recommended is a trench 18 inches deep and 12 inches wide filled with small pebbles or pea gravel”.

The Final Word

So, is bamboo eco-friendly? The answer is a resounding yes, but there are a few things to consider before filling your home and office with bamboo products.

Bamboo is a solid, durable, and versatile material, making it ideal for many applications.

But it’s also a product full of unsustainable and unethically manufactured pitfalls.

My advice would be to go for products where the bamboo has gone through the minimal amount of processing possible.

Get In Touch

Are you onboard with bamboo? Do you appreciate the environmentally friendly benefits of bamboo production? Or are you still on the fence? Drop me a line and let me know.

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James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.
James Miller
James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.

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