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Everyday Enviro with Elise - Testing the bamboo bandwagon

Date: 12-Aug-19
Author: Elise Catterall

Bamboo goods are marketed as a sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternative to single-use plastic items, but is that the full story?

Bamboo goods are marketed as a sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternative to single-use plastic items, but is that the full story?

We all know single- or short-use plastics are the pits and that there are some really good alternatives out there for the many plastic items that have infiltrated our lives. 

At our house, we have kind of gone all in with silicon and bamboo alternatives and, if I’m honest, I did this without doing any real research into their environmental pros and cons.  So, better late than never, I decided to have a good look at the ins and outs of all the bamboo products now in my home (including, but not limited to, toothbrushes, straws, cups, plates and cutlery, cutting boards, and underwear) and I thought it would be a good thing to share here. 

It is hard to miss all shiny statistics about how amazing bamboo is.  Statements like it releases around 35% more oxygen into the atmosphere than an equivalent amount of trees; it sequesters carbon dioxide at an equally unevenly high rate; it can be (and usually is) grown without pesticides or chemical fertilisers; it requires no irrigation so is super water friendly; it is self-seeding, so doesn’t need to be replanted; it grows crazy fast, so can be planted and harvested in short space of time (one species has been clocked at around 90cm in a day - check out this 24hour timelapse); it produces up to 20 times the timber of trees due to this growth rate; it inhibits soil erosion and so on.

A recent study even concluded that there is the potential for industrial bamboo products that have a negative carbon footprint over their full life-cycle. Pretty impressive.  Then you only need to look at all its possible uses to be really impressed – a super strong and relatively inexpensive construction material for buildings and bridges, a material for household items (like many of those in my own house), as well as furniture and toys, and then for things like textiles, rugs and even nappies.

It is with those last few items on the list that some of the shine comes off bamboo. Whilst it has fantastic eco-credentials for more structural items, for the softer products like textiles, things are not so wonderful.  A review published in The Greenhub highlighted some of the less-than-eco processes required to turn this tough, strong and very structural plant into the gorgeously soft and silky fabric that it become.

This was an eye-opener to me, as, for me, there was a huge green halo over bamboo generally. The good news is that while (generally speaking) the creation of soft fabric from bamboo involves significantly environmentally-unfriendly chemicals, including sodium hydroxide and carbon disulphide, many companies in the bamboo industry are actively looking for cleaner, less harmful and more natural ways to manufacture it. I’ll be keeping my ear to the ground for developments here.

In the meantime, I’ll be keeping to the items I already own and if I have to make any purchases going forward, I’ll stick to bamboo items that are in their more raw, structural form from sustainable sources and haven’t needed the intensive processing that the fabric manufacture involves.

See you next time! - Elise

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Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


Elise                                             Catterall
Author: Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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