Like the plant itself, bamboo has shot up quickly in popularity due to it being one of the most sustainable materials on the planet. This type of grass which formerly may have only been considered panda food has changed modern fashion as we know it and has earned endless accolades as being a glorious green material. But just how sustainable is bamboo really and in a world where we need to keep tabs on 'greenwashing' is bamboo clothing really the best choice? We delve into the eco-friendly truth of this celebrated material.
The Nature of Bamboo
The bamboo plant is truly a marvel of nature and hits a major tick list when it comes to sustainable points. There are many species of bamboo out there and most share similar headline traits in terms of rapid growth, tensile strength, and low labor to turn it into the versatile material that is used in clothing, bedding, building, and even in bamboo toilet paper.
Rapid Growth and Regeneration
One of the factors that the bamboo plant is known for is how quickly it shoots up. Bamboo forests are plentiful and with over 1400 different species of bamboo around the world, this perennial plant offers up rapid growth and regeneration. Some species of bamboo can even grow a whopping 30cm each day which means bamboo can be quickly harvested and doesn't require the years of growth that other trees and material sources may need.
Minimal Environmental Impact
Bamboo is also known for having minimal environmental impact as it has a low need for water and a solid resistance to pests. This means that it doesn't;t require the use of heavy chemicals or pesticides that compromise its sustainable status. By using a third less water than it takes to grow cotton, bamboo requires less precious resources and doesn't contribute to environmental run off or pollution.
Environmental Benefits of Bamboo
A truly sustainable hero, bamboo's status isn't just about what it doesn't do but about what it gives back to the earth too. Not only is bamboo a renewable resource but it also brings environmental benefits back to the land.
Carbon Dioxide Absorption
Bamboo absorbs more C02 than other trees which gives it climate change superhero status. On average, bamboo can absorb 12 tonnes of C02 per hectare. As bamboo also shoots up again quickly after being harvested, this carbon absorption cycle continues.
Soil Preservation and Water Conservation
The fact that as soon as you cut it, bamboo shoots up again also mans that the soil doesn't get as tired or eroded due to constant replanting. In fact, bamboo has been known to actually help soil health. The rhizomes (underground stems of the bamboo plant) help stabilize the soil and as they spread horizontally, they create a dense mat that minimizes water run off especially on slopes. As the bamboo leaves shed, they also decompose and contribute organic matter and nutrients into the soil. As mentioned, bamboo also helps with water conservation as it consumes much less water than cotton production which also earns it brownie points as an eco-friendly resource when it comes to the decision of cotton Vs bamboo.
Bamboo in Sustainable Industries
Innovations in Textiles and Construction
As the fashion industry works to move away from mass waste and poor environmental practices, bamboo fibers can truly pave the way to a more purposeful and resourceful future when it comes to textiles. Bamboo textiles are famed for their truly soft and luxurious feel, for being breathable, and for being naturally moisture wicking and antimicrobial. Bamboo fibres can be used in everything from active wear to pajamas, bed linens, socks, and so much more. Bamboo fabrics can be made in different ways - you can have organic bamboo linens or bamboo lyocell which tend to be more organic than bamboo rayon. Bamboo rayon and bamboo viscose uses bamboo pulp from the bamboo plant but the process often involves seemingly harmful chemicals to turn it from the raw material to a usable material. Look for companies that are transparent about their manufacturing process so you can decipher what type of bamboo textile you are buying.
Bamboo in Everyday Products
From bamboo flooring to bamboo straws, bamboo utensils, and bamboo furniture - bamboo shows up so much in our everyday lives. As we try to move away from a world of plastic, bamboo can be a positive impact solution. This material is known for its strength and durability which also makes it a solid choice for building materials too. In fact, building with bamboo is considered safer practice in places with high instances of earthquakes as bamboo has strength but also flexibility which means it can sustain foundation movement.
Addressing Sustainability Concerns
Responsible Farming Practices
One of the main concerns around bamboo and its sustainability can be the argument that bamboo farming may lead to monoculture and biodiversity loss. As bamboo becomes such a popular resource and as it can be so fast growing, the worry is that the demand for bamboo will lead to other species of trees, grasses, and plants being eradicated to plant bamboo forests. As monocultures can also lead to higher pest invasions, farmers would then need to use pesticides and this would also go against the sustainability of bamboo. This is why its so important to keep responsible farming practices in the production of bamboo by intercropping with other plant species and only harvesting the mature bamboo culms and leaving the younger shoots to climb and continue supporting the ecosystem.
Ethical production is important when it comes to all kinds of sustainable products and materials and bamboo is no exception. Its important to ensure that companies and buyers are both commited to fair and ethical labor practices and that workers in this industry are paid accordingly. Transparency and accountability are also vital and again, companies should have nothing to hide when it comes to the bamboo trail.
Choosing Sustainable Bamboo Products
Bamboo remains one of the most sustainable alternative materials when it comes to everything from textiles to everyday products and even building resources. To help you find the best sustainable options, we have a few tips on what to watch for when choosing items made from this sustainable resource.
Look at certifications and labels - companies may have information about approved bamboo sourcing to production techniques which can help you find bamboo products that have been grown organically and ethically.
Ask about low impact processing - don't be afraid to ask questions around production and in particular, how labour intensive the processing is. Products that use low impact processing and minimize the use of toxic chemicals and reduce their carbon footprint are more sustainable.
Look for longevity - opt for quality over quantity and choose products that have been designed with longevity in mind. This also reduces your own carbon footprint as you consume less and minimize waste when you buy higher quality products.
Closed loop solutions - when buying bamboo clothes or products from the bamboo market you can look for closed loop processing which will ensure that the product is able to be composted, biodegraded, or returned to the earth in a non harmful manner.
What makes bamboo more sustainable than other materials?
Bamboo is considered more sustainable than other materials as it is one of the fastest growing plants on earth. It also consumes less water than other plant species and helps with soil erosion along with sequestering tonnes of carbon dioxide. As it has few natural pests, it also doesn't require pesticides and harmful chemicals.
How does bamboo cultivation impact local ecosystems?
Bamboo cultivation can have a positive impact on local ecosystems as it helps with carbon dioxide sink and can help poor soil types to regenerate. It can also help with landslide control and water purification too.
Can bamboo products be recycled or composted?
Many bamboo products will operate on a closed-loop system which means they can be recyled or composted with ease. Bamboo is a sustainable and environmentally friendly material and as long as it is organic, it should be fine to recycle.