02 Feb 2022

Bamboo sustainable? Or just pandering to sustainably minded?

It is often hailed as more sustainable than cotton and better for the environment than paper made from trees, but is it?

The short answer is that it has the potential to be, but often is actually quite damaging.

The good points:

  • Bamboo doesn’t die when you cut it, it just regrows which means it doesn’t need replanting after a harvest. Due to the roots remaining in place it also prevents soil erosion.
  • It can grow up to a meter per day meaning it is endlessly renewable
  • Bamboo is considered a “carbon sink” as it absorbs twice as much CO2 as trees
  • It requires very little irrigation and no pesticides
  • Bamboo can be added to other pulps such as plants and trees to make up cloth like rayon and viscose (full biodegradable synthetic cloth made from natural sources)

The bad points:

  • Like producing rayon/viscose from plants and tree pulp, bamboo requires a heavy and intensive chemical process to turn it into soft fibres for weaving
  • Often the chemicals used for this transformation process are discarded into waterways damaging both the natural environment and humans
  • The trend for bamboo has caused ancient forests in China to be cut down in preference for bamboo plantations (there are some FSC certified bamboo forests but this does not extend to the processing of the bamboo itself)

Bamboo products have huge potential to be a force for good, but only if the industry protects existing forests and manages its chemical waste issue.

How to take action:

  • When buying “wooden” bamboo products such as toothbrushes, cleaning brushes etc – make sure they are FSC certified. Our partner Seep only use FSC certified bamboo in all their products. If you haven’t see our fantastic plastic-free challenge we are running with Seep, then check it out here.
  • When buying cloth and textiles - check if the brand you are buying from has signed up to the transparency code of conduct in relation viscose/bamboo chemical processing:
  • Try opting for TENCEL products instead. TENCEL is made from sustainably sourced eucalyptus wood and, unlike other viscose products, uses a less harsh chemical process which also creates a closed loop as the chemicals can be captured and reused – preventing chemical pollution
  • If you are unsure if the bamboo product you are buying from has been sustainably sourced and processed – do a bit more digging before buying.




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