If you are wondering whether or not bamboo is actually good for the environment, you’ve come to the right place. More often than not, companies that want the business of eco-minded folks like you and me will try to make their products seem more eco-friendly than they actually are.
It’s up to us to determine whether or not this is genuinely the case.
Let’s first look at the facts. Bamboo is grass with a hard, woody, hollow stem. It is a perennial evergreen, meaning it grows every year and stays green year-round (summarized from allthingsnature.org). It also grows quickly, with some species hitting maturity within a mere 90 days. This makes it the fastest-growing plant on Earth.
We will explore the importance of this further as we ask ourselves whether or not bamboo is as eco-friendly as people make it out to be.
So without further delay, let’s jump right in.
Is Bamboo Biodegradable?
Yes, raw bamboo is biodegradable. Smaller bamboo products can take 5-10 years to fully biodegrade if left outside. This process can speed up to a matter of months in compost conditions.
This may seem obvious, given that it’s a plant that must degrade in natural conditions, but it’s still important to cover. Especially once you get into the nitty-gritty details.
Notice how we said raw. A closer inspection may be required to determine if the bamboo has been changed and, if so, how much.
For example, there are products out there that may simply process the bamboo through physical means (cutting it, shaving it, shaping it, etc). These products can be readily accepted as biodegradable.
However, there are other products that may infuse bamboo with plastic or chemical additives, which can greatly reduce the plant’s biodegradability. It can even become just as bad as traditional plastic – wasting away in a landfill for decades on end.
So next time you pass by a bamboo product, you should check the tags or materials list to see if it’s been modified. Heck, even a quick Google search can reveal a lot about a certain brand and show how they handle their materials.
Is Bamboo Eco-Friendly?
Yes, raw bamboo is eco-friendly. It grows out of the ground, after all. We can’t think of any plants that come from the earth and actually harm the planet.
But of course, this only applies to unmodified or lightly modified bamboo. It all depends on how the bamboo was changed in order to shape it into a functional product.
Bamboo which is used as a replacement for wood-based products like paper, phone cases, musical instruments, and even construction is likely to be eco-friendly. When bamboo is only physically modified, it retains many of the great environmentally-friendly qualities that it has in its raw material form.
Bamboo that is chemically manufactured may still be biodegradable, but it probably won’t be eco-friendly. Chemically modified bamboo may leach these chemicals into the environment as it breaks down, which can poison the soil and infect nearby groundwater.
Physically modifying bamboo tends to be more expensive than chemically modifying it, which is why companies may do it and hope you don’t ask questions. But if you want to use bamboo for its eco-friendly benefits, then you should stick with bamboo that has not been exposed to harmful chemicals.
Beyond its uses as a product, the bamboo plant itself is amazing for the environment. Here are some highlights:
- It acts as reinforcement against soil erosion, which could otherwise decimate crops.
- It grows exceedingly quickly, making it easy to harvest.
- It does not need many resources to grow, which can help limit carbon production.
- It’s highly versatile, which indirectly protects other plants from being cut down for use.
We are impressed with this plant. When untreated, bamboo products can do a lot of good for the environment.
Is Bamboo Recyclable?
Yes, raw bamboo is absolutely recyclable. Many people think that bamboo cannot be recycled since it’s a plant, but this is not the case. If your bamboo meets the right criteria, then your local recycling center will take it without question.
That is, of course, if it meets the criteria. It may seem like we’re repeating ourselves here, but it is the truth. Chemically modified bamboo cannot be recycled – it’s considered contaminated. Artificial materials added to otherwise unmodified bamboo will also disqualify it from recycling.
Some examples of popular, chemically-modified bamboo products include furniture, fences, and even flooring. Chemically-treated bamboo products for aesthetic purposes, such as giving it an extra shine, will also be banned from any recycling center
So if you plan on recycling some bamboo products, make sure that they are as chemically untouched as possible. The cleaner the material, the more likely it will be recycled.
And recycling is always a great way to help the planet!
Is Bamboo Compostable?
Yes, bamboo is very compostable. It is one of the lucky materials that actually break down quickly in both home and commercial compost conditions. So if you have (or set up) a compost bin, you can just toss your bamboo in there.
What’s great about composting bamboo is that it tends to break down moderately quickly – it only takes a few months for it to completely break down. Compare that to PLA (polylactic acid), which is supposed to be compostable but only at those big, dedicated compost facilities.
But hey, both of these are way better than plastic, which takes hundreds upon hundreds of years to fully break down – sending microplastics into our diets all the while.
So yeah, bamboo is awesome for composting. As long as the bamboo hasn’t been too chemically modified, of course. Modified bamboo will likely still degrade, but you run the risk of poisoning your bin.
Remember, always check product tags and materials lists. And when in doubt, look it up online.
Are Bamboo Products Sustainable?
Yes, bamboo products are definitely sustainable. There is a reason why they are marketed as an eco-friendly alternative to wood – it can pretty much become anything that wood can become.
Naturally, this means that we don’t have to rely on wood as much. This is great because we need trees now more than ever to combat rising carbon production and global warming.
Seriously, bamboo can be used for so many different things. Here is a list of products that offer bamboo versions (credit to guaduabamboo.com):
- Bamboo musical instruments
- Bamboo textiles
- Bamboo pulp and paper
- Bamboo bioenergy
- Bamboo food and beverage
- Bamboo sports and recreation equipment
- Bamboo-fitted electronics
- Bamboo jewelry and fashion
- Bamboo furniture
- Bamboo personal care and beauty
- Bamboo household items
- Bamboo agriculture and livestock equipment
And this is not a complete list, either. There are many ways to replace wood with bamboo, and each replacement is another step toward fashioning a sustainable future.
But you have to be careful when looking at products that combine non-sustainable materials with sustainable ones. Things can get weird.
Bamboo toothbrushes are a great example of this – the bamboo handles are eco-friendly, but the bristles are made from a non-sustainable, not biodegradable material called nylon.
But wait, there is a type of nylon called nylon-4, which is still not biodegradable but IS compostable at dedicated compost facilities. But even if this breaks down, it could just be breaking down into microplastics, which is a whole other can of worms.
It can get complicated and confusing really quickly. If you don’t want to deal with all of that, then you should stick with products that are 100% made of eco-friendly materials.
Is Bamboo Fabric Sustainable?
Bamboo fabric can be sustainable, but it entirely depends on how the fabric was created. Bamboo fabric can be mechanically processed and chemically processed.
Mechanically processed bamboo fabric is more expensive, but it retains all of the great eco-friendly advantages that bamboo possesses. This makes it 100% sustainable. It also retains a unique feel that people tend to love once they get used to it.
As you might have guessed, chemically processed bamboo fabric is a no-go in terms of sustainability. This makes it closer in feel to traditional fabric, but it’s not worth being an environmental detriment.
Is Bamboo Packaging Sustainable?
In the majority of cases, bamboo packing is sustainable. Since bamboo is naturally strong, it doesn’t require much changing to function as a packaging material.
This is great as it makes it not only eco-friendly but also cost-effective, which is something that companies love to see. If a company can use eco-friendly alternatives at an equal or lower price, they are more likely to do so. It makes for great marketing, after all.
There are rare cases where bamboo packaging may be chemically treated. You already know the answer to whether or not this type of packaging is sustainable.
Is Bamboo Toilet Paper Sustainable?
Yes, bamboo toilet paper is usually sustainable – assuming that it hasn’t been chemically modified. This is a bit more of a concern than with packaging, and you are far more likely to see it while shopping. The reason is rather sad.
Bamboo toilet paper has one unfortunate property to it – it can sometimes be not as soft as traditional toilet paper. When you are wiping down sensitive areas, this can be a dealbreaker. You and many other people, in fact. There is a reason why so many people opt for the softest toilet paper they can find.
To fix this “problem”, some companies will chemically treat their bamboo toilet paper in order to make it softer and more like traditional toilet paper. But by doing so, the toilet paper is no longer sustainable.
That’s not to say that bamboo toilet paper is rough by any means. It can actually still be quite soft. If you are willing to give it a try, we are sure that you won’t be disappointed. And the planet will be all the more thankful for your care.
Looking back on our original question, is bamboo really good for the environment? The truth is that bamboo is best for the environment when left alone. It’s a great plant that provides a ton of value. But the more modified the bamboo is, the more you should scrutinize whether or not it’s actually eco-friendly.
There will be unscrupulous companies that use greenwashing in order to get a quick buck out of you. We see it all the time. But with due diligence, you can really take advantage of this strong, soft, and highly malleable alternative to timber.
Bamboo is amazing. We hope that we managed to convince you of that too!
All right, that’s it for this post. Thanks for reading!
We hope that you learned something new. We learned a lot after researching this topic. It’s truly incredible just how useful something like bamboo can be.
As always, let’s continue to strive for greener, better living!