Let us answer all questions about bamboo
In recent years, bamboo has been at the centre of many companies trying to make sustainable products. This is no surprise, given that they’re considered to be one of the world's most sustainable materials.
It’s rapid growth of up to 1 metre per day ensures that they can be harvested in 3-5 years. They also absorb 5 times the amount of carbon dioxide compared to similar groups of trees, and require little to no use of pesticides, making it an environmentally friendly option.
The root system of bamboo is also great for preventing soil erosion and creating an underground with high structural integrity.
However, the increasing consumer demand for sustainable products has been coupled with a rise in ‘green-washing’ products. These are bamboo products that are seemingly sustainable, but actually have damaging impacts on the planet.
Thus, in this article we’ll be tackling some of the most common controversies and questions regarding bamboo for sustainable products. Hopefully, it’ll enable you to make choices that are really sustainable.
Let’s dive in.
Is bamboo sustainable?Yes it is! Bamboo is sustainable material. There is lots of cases where it has been used in the right way. But there is also ways how to make bamboo not to be a sustainable material.
Are all bamboo products sustainable?
Unfortunately, no. As a rule of thumb, if the product is made without manipulating the form of bamboo, meaning that you can visually see the bamboo elements in its solid form, it’s likely to be sustainable.
For example, kitchenware products such as cutleries, cutting boards, and even furniture made of bamboo would qualify as environmentally friendly alternatives made out of bamboo.
However, when it comes to bamboo used in its manipulated form, as is frequently the case with bamboo cloth, making a sustainable choice can get a little tricky (see below).
Are bamboo fabrics sustainable?
In reality bamboo fabrics are not as sustainable as we all might think, and it is due to the complexity of the process that is involved when transforming bamboo into fabric.
The good answer goes beyond a simple yes or no. The most crucial point to understand when it comes to bamboo fabrics, is that there are different types of bamboo fabric, each with a different environmental footprint.
Here are 6 main types of bamboo fabric:
Bamboo is manipulated in slightly different ways to produce these final products.
Which is the most sustainable bamboo fabric?
The most sustainable one is bamboo linen, because it’s usually made without any toxic chemicals, and primarily through mechanical processing.
Second best option is Bamboo Tencel, which is a branded version of modal and lyocell.It is less harmful as it uses a closed-loop production system.
Greenwashing Bamboo fabric
For the general public the clothing associated with bamboo can actually not be as sustainable as it might seem. The reality is that most of the bamboo on the market (95%) is in the form of bamboo viscose.
Manufacturing this type of bamboo fabric often involves the use of harsh chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid which pollutes the air and infects nearby water systems.
Some factories that produce bamboo viscose might also be using zinc sulfate and carbon di-sulfate which are released into the environment as toxic waste.
The bottom line is, when purchasing products made of bamboo fabric, check which type it is. Then, opt for linen or tencel and avoid viscose. It’s all about getting curious about how the bamboo was processed, and ensuring that at every step of the way you’re choosing a product with minimal environmental damage.
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Where is bamboo grown? Is it sustainable?
A majority of the bamboo produced for commercial uses, is currently grown in China. This is indeed a problem, because it means they are being shipped across the world, contributing to carbon dioxide pollution amongst other harmful environmental effects.
If this continues, along with an increase in bamboo demands, there is potential for it to become unsustainable. It could imply the destruction of biodiversity in order to create more land for bamboo production.
Another reason why depending on just China for bamboo resources can be dangerous, is because the regulations on bamboo plantations are not strictly implemented in some regions. This means that in response to growing demands, farmers might be incentivised to grow them faster, resorting to the use of chemical fertilizers when it isn’t necessary.
However, the good news is that since bamboo is one of the most adaptive plants, it can thrive in a variety of conditions. They have been found to grow in zones spanning across the 40th latitude to the south and north of the equator.
Hopefully, as demand increases, bamboo will be planted in more areas around the world with the necessary regulations, ultimately reducing the need for shipments from afar.
Is bamboo really more eco-friendly than cotton?
A: If it is produced into forms of linen and tencel, then yes, definitely. Bamboo is a much more sustainable alternative for several reasons, but the biggest is that they require less use of chemicals such as pesticides.
Pesticides are harmful to the environment because they tend to target non-specific species. As a result, we are experiencing huge decline in populations of pollinators such as bees, which are essential to the production of food crops.
Additionally, bamboo requires about ⅓ of the water that is required to grow cotton. So choosing materials that require less input of chemicals and water usage, is a great step towards reducing damage on the planet.
But make sure to watch out for bamboo fabrics in the form of viscose!
How can I ensure that the bamboo in my products is truly sustainable?
As we mentioned, not all bamboo products are always sustainable, especially when it comes to bamboo fabrics. This is why it’s important to look out for clear indicators that distinguish truly sustainable products from those that aren’t.
Some examples include FSC certification, Oeko-Tex, Global Organic Textile Standard, NSF...etc. For a comprehensive list of sustainability labels, click here.
Another way you can make sure your consumption choices are sustainable is to check whether the website of your products is transparent about the source of their bamboo and manufacturing processes.
With the rise of companies that are seemingly environmentally conscious but actually carrying out damaging practices, the ones that really strive to be sustainable, will definitely make sure their customers know that.
Just having a general sense of curiosity about your products and doing a bit of research should reveal whether you’re making a positive impact.
When it comes to the use of bamboo in sustainable products, don’t make assumptions that the label ‘bamboo’ directly implies that it’s environmentally friendly. As we saw in the case of bamboo textile, it’s all too easy for consumers to think that it’s a sustainable alternative, when really, there are behind-the-scenes processes that are just as, if not, more damaging than the materials they claim to replace.
On the bright side though, most bamboo products that have minimal bamboo processing are quite sustainable. This includes the commonly seen products such as bamboo toothbrushes, bamboo chopping boards and bamboo cutleries.
You can also usually look out for certified products or inspect their website to get proof about how sustainable a product really is.
Finally, the issue of where the bamboo plantations are grown, as well as the shipments made across the world, is something that must be addressed as the market grows. But for now, bamboo is by far a much better, natural alternative to using plastic that will pollute and remain in the environment for hundreds of years. As with many things in life, it might not be a 100% perfect solution, but as long as it's heading in the right direction, we should strive to do the best we can.