Is Bamboo a Sustainable Option or a Means of Greenwashing?

Bamboo, nicknamed the “wonder plant”, is a type of grass which is native to tropical regions. One thing that makes bamboo so special is its unique ability to grow and regrow at an extremely fast pace: even up to 4 feet per day! Bamboo also has antioxidant properties, which can prevent bacterial growth and be used as natural preservatives in various foods.

 

bamboo trees
Image by Alex Keda

Truthfully, it is not a black and white answer when it comes to the question of whether bamboo is sustainable or not. On one hand, bamboo can “release 35% more oxygen and absorb the same amount of carbon dioxide than the equivalent amount of trees”. This finding supports the argument that bamboo is sustainable. On the other hand, many of the places where bamboo is grown have had their forest land cleared to plant the bamboo. Deforestation is most definitely not a sustainable action, even when doing so to plant something else. Deforestation destroys biodiversity and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

 

Additionally, many bamboo producers use harmful and toxic pesticides in the production process, even though this is not necessarily always required. Sometimes it is to ensure bugs don’t feed off the bamboo. Sometimes it is to increase profits, as non-organic crops typically take up less land than organic ones. Whatever the reason, using toxic pesticides is not healthy for the bamboo, the people coming into contact with it or the land it is being grown on. Rule of thumb: buy organic when possible. 

 

man in green t-shirt holding a green metal bar
Image by Rafael Idrovo Espinoza

Next, let’s talk about bamboo growing and its production. Bamboo producers often use carbon disulfide, a neurotoxic liquid which can also cause damage to the body’s reproductive system. Since most of the bamboo in the world is grown in China, the carbon footprint tends to be higher because of the distance the bamboo has to travel when being transported around the world for both production and sale. On the other hand, because bamboo is lighter and takes up less space than other materials like wood, more of it can be transported at a time. This slightly reduces its environmental impact in comparison to alternatives.

 

Another thing that can make bamboo less sustainable is when it is processed to be used in clothing. During this process, the bamboo is dissolved in chemicals, most of which are or can be harmful to the environment, the people involved in the production and the people wearing the clothing.

 

The key to knowing when bamboo is sustainable is finding out where it comes from and how it was produced. The less distance it has to travel to get to you, the better. Also, the fewer chemicals that were involved in its production to the final product, the less harmful it is for both the environment and to you. A good, general rule is that the less processed the bamboo is, the better it is for the environment. For example, a bamboo chair would be a better option than a bamboo shirt. As previously stated, the question of whether bamboo is sustainable does not have a clear-cut answer, but if you take the appropriate steps, you can rest assured knowing that the bamboo you’re getting is better for the planet and your health.

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