Is bamboo environmentally friendly?
Bamboo doesn’t need lots of chemicals to help grow, is 100% biodegradable, naturally pest-resistant, and highly renewable. It regrows to its adult plant size in 3 to 5 years. Bamboo absorbs 5 times more carbon dioxide and generates 35% more oxygen than similar plants.
Bamboo is strong and flexible. This means that it can be a good substitute for plastic.
What concerns are there about bamboo products?
It is almost impossible to grow bamboo commercially in Europe. So 80% of the world’s bamboo comes from China, where standards for organic and sustainable production are often very difficult to ascertain.
The popularity of bamboo for commercial use is encouraging farmers to plant in unsuitable places and in some cases clear areas of natural forest for cultivation.
Chemically processed bamboo isn’t great. Bamboo fibres can be converted into fabric, but to do this you need to use some pretty nasty stuff like sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide. These chemicals are extremely harmful to the environment and people! If you aren’t sure what’s in your ‘bamboo’ product you can always request a certificate of manufacture to check.
Coffee cups made from a resin containing bamboo fibre. They leach harmful formaldehyde and melamine into drinks. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has warned that they shouldn’t be used for hot liquids.
Bamboo mugs are made from a melamine resin reinforced with bamboo fibres. While they are reusable, they are often marketed as eco-friendly, even though they aren’t biodegradable. Melamine resin is a polymer and in itself not dangerous, but its monomers – 1,3,5-triazine-2,4,6-triamine and formaldehyde – are toxic and can cause cancer.
It says bamboo, but is it all bamboo?
Bamboo promotional products are almost never 100% bamboo. For example, the Bamboo Double-Wall Travel Cup has a bamboo outer but also contains plastic and metal components. The Bamboo Wireless Charger USB Hub is essentially a collection of electronic components encased in bamboo with a plastic and metal cable. Conversely, the Bamboo Calendar is 100% bamboo, except for the ink used to print onto it.
How do bamboo products get here?
Most bamboo products, or products that are part-bamboo, have been shipped into Europe by Sea from the Far East. Shipment by sea is arguably more environmentally friendly than shipment by Air. However, one large container ship produces as much Sulphur as 50 million cars.
So, what’s the bottom line with bamboo?
In conclusion, a product that is all or part-bamboo is a ‘step in the right direction’ from an environmental perspective. Bamboo is probably better than plastic. Some bamboo has been farmed and processed responsibly, and some has not. It should be possible for a supplier to prove the former.
Open and fair
Lot’s of products purport to be environmentally friendly. This post forms part of a series that attempts to provide an open and honest assessment of a material or product’s environmental credentials. If we’ve got something wrong, or you would like to see further points added, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org