What Is Sustainable Bamboo?

Over the last few years, there has been an increased number of eco-friendly products becoming available on the marketplace which are proudly predominantly made from sustainable bamboo. It is generally much more hardwearing than wood, and is a renewable resource as it is the fastest growing woody material in the world.  

We stock a number of bamboo products, and will continue to hunt for new products as we become more educated on the benefits of this material over others.

There are over 1000 species of bamboo. This amazing plant grows in tropical and temperate environments and is very hardy, not needing pesticides or herbicides to grow well. It is a type of grass and grows from it’s roots, when it is cut it quickly grows back with most species maturing in 3-5 years. Bamboo is often labelled ‘the world’s most renewable material’ and is the fastest growing woody plant in the world. It can grow up to four feet in one day, and absorbs five times more carbon dioxide and produces 35% more oxygen than a similar group of trees.

Some other facts & uses:
  • It is grown without pesticides or chemical fertilisers.
  • It requires no irrigation.
  • It rarely needs replanting.
  • It grows rapidly and can be harvested in 3-5 years.
  • It produces 35% more oxygen that an equivalent stand of trees.
  • It sequesters carbon dioxide and is carbon neutral.
  • It is a critical element in the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  • It grows in a wide range of environments.
  • It’s production into fibres has lower environmental impact than other forms of fibre, especially synthetic ones.
  • According to UNESCO, 70 hectares of bamboo produces enough material to build 1000 houses. If timber was used instead, it would require the felling of trees from an already diminishing forest. Today, over one billion people in the world live in bamboo houses.
  • It is being used in road reinforcements in India and it is also used in bridges built in China, capable of supporting trucks that weigh as much as 16 tons.
  • According to Japanese scientists, nappies made from bamboo cloth can retain its antibacterial quality even after 50 washings.
  • Cups and saucers, spoons and ladles can all be made from this incredibly versatile material.
  • Shoots are used mainly in Asian food preparations. In Japan, the antioxidant properties of the bamboo skin prevent bacterial growth, and are used as natural food preservatives.
  • Charcoal made from this amazing plant has been used for centuries as cooking fuel in China and Japan.

Not all bamboo products are eco-friendly though. Chemically produced bamboo fabric commonly comes in the form of viscose rayon (to make it soft and plush), and for bamboo to be turned into rayon, it is first dissolved in harsh chemicals and fed through a spinneret so the strands can solidify to make a fibre.  Because of the growing demand for bamboo fabric to be soft and wearable, these chemicals continue to endanger factory workers, pollute the air, and infect water systems.

The ‘better’ version of bamboo fabric is bamboo lyocell (TENCEL), which is being worshipped as the new best thing in eco fabrics. Lyocell is usually made from eucalyptus trees, but bamboo is so similar that it can be made into lyocell too. Lyocell involves a closed loop cycle, meaning the water and chemicals involved in making the fabric are recycled. They never get the chance to escape into the environment.

An article from the Guardian highlights a depressing truth though, where there is human demand, there is nearly always a negative environmental impact.

As we’ve said above, bamboo, can be grown without any chemical fertilisers or pesticides. This doesn’t mean that it always is.

China is still the only country that grows bamboo on a commercial scale, and as it becomes an increasingly lucrative cash crop, farmers are starting to grow it as a mono-crop. That in itself reduces biodiversity and can lead to an increase in pests. This in turn means pesticide use becomes necessary. There’s also some evidence that farmers are using chemical fertilisers to increase their yields. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t: there are no set standards or environmental guidelines in China for the growing of bamboo and clearly their concern is to get as large a crop as possible for their money.

Unfortunately, though, this has an environmental cost.

Farmers are also now beginning to clear natural forestland in order to grow more bamboo. It seems rather ironic that much of the blame for endangering the giant pandas of China can be traced to farmers and landowners clearing bamboo forest for farmland – now they’re clearing it to grow back some bamboo. Too late, alas, for many pandas.

This isn’t to say that companies using bamboo fibres aren’t aware of these issues. They are no doubt doing their very best to avoid them by seeking guarantees that the bamboo used is grown entirely naturally. But the Chinese production system is hardly known for its transparency and it must be difficult to get any cast-iron guarantees.

We will continue to support sustainably sourced and produced bamboo products as we do believe they offer an environmentally-friendly alternative to many incredibly damaging products.