Bamboo – Is It Sustainable?

Teresa Madaleno

Bamboo is a sustainable material that has been getting a lot of attention in recent years and while it may be more environment friendly than metal and timber, it is important not to rely on bamboo to replace every household item.

Bamboo grows quickly. In fact, it can be harvested in just a few years after planting from seed. Horticultural experts will tell you that its root system is so vast that it doesn’t require replanting. Yes, it just continues to grow. It is also really dense, which means you can have very large crops compared to other types of plants and trees. The added bonus – it is naturally resistant to many pests. So, you’re wondering what’s the problem then?

Farmers in certain areas of the world have heard about the growing demand for bamboo and are abandoning the idea of planting any other type of plant. This switch to a mono-crop reduces biodiversity. There is a trickle-down effect. A lack of biodiversity leads to soil degradation, which in turn, can create pest problems. Even without a pest issue, many farmers have started to use chemicals in the hopes of encouraging shoot growth to keep up with demand. At the same time, year-after-year more land is being cleared so more bamboo crops can be planted. Of course, this impacts wildlife.

Another consideration is transportation. Most of the bamboo supply comes from China since labour costs are too high in other parts of the world where bamboo crops are common. Transportation leads to environmental pollution. Now, we aren’t saying that the negative aspects of bamboo production outweigh the sustainability features; however, what we are saying is make sure that the manufacturer or distributor of the product has the same environmental ethics that you do and isn’t just trying to cash in on concern for the environment.

Being selective and getting to know how the end product is produced will help you make the right decision. For instance, some fashion houses use bamboo in their designs but did you know that it can take a long process involving harmful chemicals in order to turn bamboo into soft, wearable fabrics?

Clothing, bedsheets, blinds, flooring, furniture, bicycles, cutting boards, paper towels, toilet paper, tooth brushes, yoga mats, jewellery, charcoal, and even some alcoholic beverages are made with bamboo. If you plan to purchase any of these products and care about mother nature, learn all you can about the manufacturer’s environmental ethics first.