Benefits of Bamboo
Uses of Bamboo
Bamboo is buzzing! No only is bamboo fast growing but its use around the world is growing rapidly too.
Today bamboo is used for much more than just panda feed! It has many benefits compared to other common materials.
Some uses of bamboo are in:
- Kitchen utensils
- Food - bamboo shoots are eaten by people as well as pandas!
This article will look at the first two of these uses in more depth, to explore the benefits of bamboo compared to other materials, and to consider any drawbacks it has.
Is Bamboo Environmentally Friendly?
Environmental Advantages of Bamboo
Bamboo has many environmental advantages . The main ones are:
- Fast growing
Many people are surprised to learn that bamboo is not a tree but a grass. This is partly what makes it such a fast-growing crop - it can grow anything from 12 inches (30 centimeters) to around a meter in one day! This means it is easily replenished.
- Low impact and high yield
Other benefits are that bamboo can grow in poor quality soil that could probably not be used for other crops, and that it absorbs carbon dioxide and emits oxygen. In comparison to crops such as cotton or hardwood, the same area will give a yield of ten to twenty times as much. Bamboo uses considerably water to grow than cotton does.
- No pesticides or fertilizers
Because bamboo is naturally fast growing and resilient it can be grown without pesticides or fertilizers.
Bamboo can be used in many different ways.
Does Bamboo have any environmental disadvantages?
Sadly, at the moment, the answer to this is sometimes yes.
To become useful to people, bamboo needs to be processed, and depending on its end use that process can involve the use of chemicals. For example, much of the bamboo flooring available is layered together with glue containing formaldehyde. This off-gases (emits) chemicals for a long time after manufacture.
When processing bamboo for use in clothing chemicals are also often used.
- Poor quality working environment for some bamboo workers.
Although many bamboo manufacturers are ethical and fair, some are not. The vast majority of bamboo processing is currently done in China where standards are variable and many people are concerned that some workers may be exposed to high levels of dangerous chemicals on a daily basis. Although the Chinese government has set standards for factory working conditions, how strictly these are regulated is open to debate, as this article in The Economist suggests.
Therefore, when buying bamboo products, we need to be sure to do so from reputable and ethical sources.
Bamboo Flooring Material
As a building material, bamboo is most often used in flooring. The quality of bamboo used is extremely important so if you opt for bamboo, take care when choosing your floor. Some manufacturers have leapt on the bamboo-bandwagon and are trying to cash in on its popularity and "green" image by producing cheap products.
If the quality of the bamboo is good, and the manufacture has been done responsibly, bamboo flooring can last a long time and remain in very good condition. Like wood, it needs to be treated with respect: water spills mopped up, and care taken to avoid scratches.
- Don't buy Cheap Bamboo Flooring
But these cheap products are cheap for a reason and in the case of bamboo flooring buying expensive is likely to save you money in the long run whereas buying cheap will cost you more!
Bamboo Flooring Can Look Beautiful
Questions to consider when researching bamboo flooring to buy:
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- New or Old Bamboo?
Although bamboo grows rapidly, there are changes to how it grows over time, and it takes 5 to 7 years to fully mature. Bamboo loses moisture as it matures, and if it is older than 7 years when it is harvested will be too dry and brittle. Since young bamboo contains more moisture than mature bamboo, if it is used to make flooring it is likely to shrink or warp. It is also more inclined to discolor than mature bamboo. Therefore, when choosing bamboo flooring, be sure that it is mature bamboo. Cheap flooring is usually manufactured from bamboo that is too new. There are many different varieties of bamboo, and that most suited to flooring comes from the Moso plant.
- How Bamboo Flooring is Made
Because bamboo is a grass, not a wood, layers are glued together to make flooring. First the bamboo is dried and then boiled, and layering the bamboo gives a strong and long lasting product - so long as the correct type of bamboo is used of course.
- Use of Formaldehyde in Bamboo Flooring
The drawback with this production method is that the glue used often contains formaldhyde. This is toxic, though there are differing opinions on the level at which is becomes so. Some manufacturers, such as USA company Green Floors, avoid formaldehyde altogether, while others, such as Australian company Kaizan, say that alternative chemicals are more dangerous and that in low levels formaldehyde is safe. US regulations allow higher levels of formaldehyde than EU regulations do. In better quality bamboo flooring the amounts of formaldehyde are generally likely to be lower.
- How to Buy Bamboo Flooring
If you are planning to buy bamboo flooring, it is a good idea to obtain a sample first and treat it to the worst that your home could be expected to endure. Allow your pets to scratch at it, spill water on it, and see how it holds up! Ask the retailer for information the type of bamboo used and how it has been made. A trustworthy retailer will be pleased to answer your questions. To be sure you know what questions to ask, take the quiz in the blue box above.
Bamboo Sports Clothing is very comfortableClick thumbnail to view full-size
Benefits of Bamboo Clothing
Bamboo clothing is usually worn in place of cotton or synthetic fabrics. How does it compare to these?
Bamboo vs Cotton
In comparison to cotton, bamboo is softer, and feels very pleasant on the skin. Strangely bamboo is good at keeping you cool in summer and warm in winter. Like cotton it is a naturally breathable fabric, but it is much better at wicking moisture away from the skin. It is also naturally anti-bacterial. For this reason it is good for socks or as a base layer when taking part in outdoor activities. Our family love bamboo socks and we now buy both regular socks and sports socks in the fiber.
- Bamboo vs Synthetic fabrics
Compared to synthetic fabrics, I find bamboo much more comfortable. As one retailer of bamboo clothing says, you get don't end up sweaty and smelly after wearing bamboo!
- Controversy over Bamboo's Production
There is some controversy over the most common method used to convert raw bamboo into yarn suitable for clothing. Although it is possible to make the yarn mechanically this is costly and done rarely. (The finished fabric is similar to linen.) Often bamboo is broken down with caustic soda and carbon disulfide, chemicals which can cause allergic reactions. Additionally the chemicals can be pollutant. However, these chemicals and others are also commonly used in the manufacture of other fabrics; for instance caustic soda is used in making cotton and many chemicals are used in the manufacture of synthetics.
As with bamboo flooring, it pays to do some research before buying bamboo clothing. Some manufacturers are more responsible than others and will reuse chemicals and ensure that workers' safety is paramount, while others take even more care and use alternative chemicals that they consider to be safer.
- OEKO-TEX® Certification
The best way to ensure you are buying bamboo clothing that is ethically produced and free from harmful chemicals is to buy only clothing that has OEKO-TEX® certification. This body regulates the use of chemicals in textiles; it limits the use of some chemicals and bans others. For instance carcinogenic (potentially cancer inducing) dyes are not permitted.
My Verdict on Bamboo
Although there is little doubt that bamboo is not as perfect as some manufacturers suggest, it is considerably better than many of the alternatives. For clothing, bamboo has a far lower impact on the environment than either non-organic cotton or synthetics, which are largely what it replaces.
Like most products, there is a vast variation in how sustainably and ethically bamboo is grown and processed, so it is not possible to say bamboo products as a whole are good or bad. As with any product, when buying bamboo it would be wise to investigate a little and confirm that the retailer knows the origin and production methods of its bamboo.