Is Bamboo Really Sustainable?
Author: Sandy Abram Date Posted:10 October 2018
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Bamboo is a popular choice for those of us looking for plastic alternatives to everyday items such as toothbrushes and drinking straws. But with popularity and demand often comes supply issues and companies wanting a quick buck from less than eco... Bamboo is a popular choice for those of us looking for plastic alternatives to everyday items such as toothbrushes and drinking straws. But with popularity and demand often comes supply issues and companies wanting a quick buck from less than eco...
Bamboo is a popular choice for those of us looking for plastic alternatives to everyday items such as toothbrushes and drinking straws. But with popularity and demand often comes supply issues and companies wanting a quick buck from less than eco friendly means. So how do we know the bamboo we’re buying is as sustainable as we think it is…?
In our quest to do things right by the environment, as a nation, we’re waking up to the problem of plastic - particularly single use plastics. And we should all definitely pat ourselves on the back, we’re doing great work, recycling, reusing and repurposing.
But life still has to happen, and often it’s a busy, fast-paced life full of commitments that means we still need convenience. Wrapping our lunch in paper might seem like a good idea, until we get to the office and find a soggy mess at the bottom of our bag. Eating a takeaway salad with our fingers… well, actually, not such a good idea. But you get what I mean.
PLASTIC-FREE ALTERNATIVES NEED TO WORK.
They also need to be environmentally friendly and sustainable. Otherwise, we have to question the point of them. At Wholesome Hub, we love bamboo as a convenient, and stylish, alternative to plastic toothbrushes, straws, cotton buds and cutlery. And so do you. Our natural bamboo products are becoming increasingly popular.
Bamboo as an Eco Friendly, Renewable Material
Bamboo is very planet-friendly. It’s actually a woody grass, rather than pure wood and it grows extremely fast. Recently a few shoots from a neighbour two gardens away reached us and wow does it grow fast. Literally centimetres every day, it’s epic!
IT’S THIS SPEED OF GROWTH THAT MAKES IT SO ECOLOGICALLY SOUND.
Bamboo can grow from seed to fully grown and ready for harvest in three to five years. Which is far quicker than hardwood trees which can take decades. Once harvested, the roots can regenerate into new shoots which saves on time, costs and labour (and explains why bamboo appeared in my garden so suddenly). Being such a renewable and hardy material also means it requires no pesticides.
Bamboo is robust enough to be recycled into other products once it’s finished with, but is also natural enough to fully biodegrade in landfill.
The Emerging Problems With Bamboo’s New Found Popularity
As with many items (or in this case, materials) however, when they become popular, it can mean their production or harvest can cause other problems, elsewhere.
For example let’s look at electric cars. They’re great at decreasing particulate matter in the air and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for fuel. But are they really that green? What about where their batteries are made? Areas of the world are turning into barren landscapes with no flora, fauna or communities because of battery factories. What about the ecologically destructive mining of the rare metals needed for the batteries and magnets in electric cars? How do the batteries get disposed of when they come to the end of their life? Do we even know that yet? All of this could add up to be worse than the problem originally trying to be solved.
Electric cars are an extreme example, but they demonstrate the problem with unwittingly funnelling a problem elsewhere.
So what are the potential problems with the sustainability of bamboo?
First, there’s the issue of unscrupulous companies jumping on the bandwagon and selling fake bamboo.
UNLESS YOU’RE ULTRA FAMILIAR WITH IT, COULD YOU TELL REAL BAMBOO FROM A FAKE, MADE WITH PLASTIC?!
A quick Ecosia search demonstrates how fake bamboo is actually a thing. I found artificial bamboo cane fencing being sold by companies proudly and loudly featuring the fact their products are low maintenance, ideal for ‘hiding unsightly features’ and made of plastic!
That aside, if you bought a seemingly eco friendly childs bowl and cup set for example, say from Amazon, how would you know it was really made from bamboo?
Fake bamboo aside, real bamboo is primarily grown in China. (Did you know that bamboo is used in place of steel in scaffolding in China? This video demonstrates how amazing this is, but please, come back and read the rest of this blog post when you’ve finished!)
Growing demand for bamboo is increasingly leading to farmers in China growing it as a monocrop, and also clearing large areas of forest and farmland to grow it. This reduces biodiversity and allows natural pests to start to accumulate. Which, guess what? Leads to farmers using pesticides to prevent pests, on a crop that can grow without pesticides!
Because growing bamboo is becoming so lucrative, it’s also incentivising farmers to grow harvestable crops even quicker. And yep, you’ve guessed it, by using chemical fertilizers to artificially enhance growth. A sorry, sorry, state of affairs.
FSC Certification of Bamboo
At the moment, there is no law that says bamboo has to be grown sustainably, which has inevitably led to unsustainable bamboo forests. However, the Forest Stewardship Council does have a certification covering the sustainable management of bamboo plantations and FSC certified bamboo does exist.
Buying Sustainable Bamboo Products
Anyone that knows me, knows that I am 500% committed to our planet so I’m by no means suggesting that you don’t buy bamboo. Bamboo products are a great alternative to plastic! I suppose I’m just a bit of a sceptic sometimes and questioning everything is part of my nature so I just wonder, with such an increase in demand for bamboo, what are the holes that will appear.
So, my advice is this. We just need to careful about which bamboo products we buy. Always look out for trusted brands from ethical companies with high values who state that they use FSC certified bamboo, or bamboo from sustainable sources.
We love our friendly bamboo brands and we’re proud to stock products from the likes of Grants of Australia, Go Bamboo and Ever Eco. So stock up, safe in the knowledge they’re just as kind to you as they are to the environment.