Bamboo is one of the most eco-friendly resources on the planet, and for good reason. It grows incredibly fast, reaching a mature, usable level in just two to four years. This is bounds faster than traditional forestation, which takes 50 to 60 years to reach a usable level. Some varieties of bamboo can grow up to four feet in just one day!
Bamboo has been called a miracle plant due to its unique properties. It's stronger by weight than steel, it's naturally antibacterial (so it doesn't need pesticides to help it grow) and it self-propagates, meaning it regrows on its own. These features make it a desirable natural resource.
What Is Bamboo Used For?
This incredibly strong and versatile grass is used throughout the world for various purposes, including building materials, household items, clothing and even food. Bamboo flooring is common in many parts of the world today due to its strength and beauty.
Bamboo cutting boards are a popular choice for chefs and home cooks alike. Their dense composition makes them resistant to knife cuts, keeping them cleaner and less likely to incubate bacteria. They also require less maintenance than traditional woods like cherry and maple.
Supply and Demand
With the increasing demand around the world for eco-friendly and sustainable products, the market for bamboo has never been more lucrative. This is a $60 billion industry and growing. This demand comes at a price, however. Farmers across the globe are eager to cash in on this cash crop, leading to some less than eco-friendly farming methods.
In places like China, where industry regulations are limited or nonexistent, farmers have turned to pesticides and fertilizers to increase their yields and therefore their profits. They are also replacing farmland with bamboo forests, leading to reduced biodiversity and more soil erosion.
Processing Is a Problem, Too
While bamboo is naturally eco-friendly, the processing steps it goes through to become a usable product aren't always best for the environment. Harsh chemicals are sometimes used to break down the tough plant into fibers that can be used for clothing and linens. While there are sustainable ways to do this with natural enzymes, not everything produced is using this method because it is more expensive and takes more time.
So What Can You Do?
If you're like most people, you're concerned about the social impact of products for the home. The good news is that not all bamboo products are bad for the environment. The key is finding the right ones.
There are several organizations that will certify the growing conditions of bamboo. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Rainforest Alliance are two of them. Looking for these certifications can help you choose products that are grown to be highly sustainable without a negative impact on the environment. Different industries representing different finished products have their own certifications as well.
The flooring industry is a perfect example of this. A FloorScore certification for indoor air quality is a great addition to an FSC recommendation. LEEDS and BREEAM are also important marks to look for.
Bamboo is a common material for drapes, linens and other fabrics around the home. In order to ensure you're getting items that align with your worldview, look for ones with the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification. This ensures that products are free from colorants and other chemicals you don't want in your home.
The Bottom Line
While in theory bamboo is an eco-friendly and sustainable natural resource, in reality, a lot of things can be happening behind the scenes that are not so good for planet Earth. Watching what you buy and looking for products that are certified by reputable organizations will help you be sure you are getting items that are good for your family and good for the environment as well.