Green

Bamboo: Green or Not Green?

Bamboo
Bamboo has a dark side, too.
Image: Shutterstock

Bamboo has become the poster child for green products.  Almost any product branded as environmentally friendly will likely say it’s made with bamboo.  So, what is so green about bamboo anyway?  It grows quickly, uses less water than cotton, and does not require pesticides.  It can prevent soil erosion and improve air quality.  Compared to cotton, bamboo is a godsend.  Our miracle grass has a dark side, however.

Mainly, the problems with bamboo stem from the process it undergoes to be made into fabric.  One common process for bamboo fabric involves a chemical rinse with sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, two chemicals that are toxic to people.  The fibers of the bamboo soften into a rayon material by bonding with the fibers and changing the elemental structure.  If the chemicals are not properly disposed of, they can cause soil and water contamination.

The popularity of bamboo has also caused habitat destruction and deforestation in China.  It is primarily grown in Asia and shipped across the world, cancelling out some the carbon the grass absorbs while growing.  Bamboo flooring also can contain volatile organic compounds, a chemical substance that reduces air quality indoors.  Darker bamboo can also mean it has been treated with heat, which hurts the durability of the product and makes the life cycle shorter.

Marketers count on the fact that bamboo has a reputation for being green, and while it does require far fewer resources to grow than cotton, it is important to make sure you look at how the material is treated as well.  Also, check to see if there are locally made alternatives that may be a better option for apparel, flooring or furnishings.  Do not be afraid to investigate your purchases and ensure the minimum amount of toxic or unsustainable practices are incorporated into your green home.

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