Bamboo: The Eco Choice?

Bamboo: The Eco Choice?

If you’re like me, you’ve come to associate bamboo with being eco-friendly… but you’re not quite sure why that is. There are all sorts of bamboo products from linens to kitchenware to clothing and flooring. But what makes bamboo eco, and more importantly, is it actually beneficial to the planet?

Bamboo needs very relatively little energy to grow and thrives in damaged soil. Bamboo actually replenishes the soil in which it grows. It generates approximately 30% more oxygen than trees. While other trees take decades to grow large enough to be manufactured into useable products, bamboo grows at the rate of about two inches an hour. It is naturally resistant to pests, decreasing the need for insecticides. In short, there are a number of reasons why bamboo has earned its green reputation.

One of the more popular uses of bamboo right now is clothing. It is naturally soft, porous, and resistant to bacteria and odor, and also offers UV protection. Bamboo clothing is also more durable than cotton, and is generally less beaten down by machine washing.
But for all the good there are disadvantages to using bamboo. There isn’t an official grading system for bamboo materials so the quality of the plant being used is dependent on the manufacturing company. The process by which it is broken down to make clothing is not entirely eco-friendly itself. The plant is sometimes chemically treated with lye and carbon disulfide to soften the fiber but this can cause skin and eye irritation, headaches and fatigue if low levels have been breathed in. The use of lye nullifies the antimicrobial benefits of the bamboo pulp that was initially used to create the product. The FTC also warned consumers about the deceptive labeling of rayon products as bamboo. Rayon is created by a process which uses harsh chemicals and as such, does not tout the same ecological benefits as bamboo clothing. Beyond the manufacturing process it is also said that the use of bamboo has lead to deforestation in some areas due to rapid increases in demand.

Where do you stand on bamboo? Do the environmental benfits outweigh the cons? Are there certain types of bamboo products on your do-not buy list, while others make the cut?

November 5, 2012