You know when you learn a new word, and then you suddenly start seeing it everywhere? For me, bamboo has been a bit like that.
I first heard about bamboo being used as an eco-friendly fibre a couple of years ago, and now bam! (pun intended) - I'm seeing bamboo toothbrushes, bamboo scrubs, bamboo bed sheets, you name it. So with all this buzz around bamboo I thought I'd do a bit of digging - is it really the sustainable superstar many are claiming it to be? Read below to find out!
Bamboo is commonly grown in southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, growing up to four feet in one day. The speedy yield means less land is needed to grow the crops, and the plant produces over 35% more oxygen than other trees.
Once harvested, the roots self-regenerate which means they don't need to be manually replanted.
Perhaps best of all, bamboo requires little water, and no pesticides or fertiliser. When you compare this to how much water gets used in cotton production (approximately 2,700 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt), bamboo certainly stands tall.
How does bamboo get used?
Bamboo has a long tradition of being used to build structures such as houses and bridges because of its strength, light weight and durability. In more recent times, alternative uses for bamboo have become popular, such as in textiles and homewares.
Bamboo textiles can feel luxuriously soft and breathable against your skin. The fabric typically feels softer than linen or cotton, and is suitable for both cooler and warmer climates as it quickly adjusts to the outside temperature. In addition, bamboo is naturally anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, which means garments made with bamboo can be particularly suitable for those with sensitive skin.
However getting the bamboo into a form which is suitable for textiles requires a lengthy and intensive manufacturing process. This is where the waters can get muddy.
In order to use bamboo for textiles, it must undergo a chemical process in order to extract the required cellulose fibres. These chemicals can include sulfur and sodium hydroxide, which can harm both the environment and the workers involved in the textile production. If not disposed of safely, these chemicals can infiltrate waterways and threaten already fragile ecosystems.
Now for some good news, TENCEL is widely considered to be one of the most sustainable brands that make cellulose-fibre based textiles. They using a closed-loop production process that reuses most of the chemicals to avoid excessive waste. You can read more about TENCEL here.
Recommendation: If you're looking for bamboo textiles such as clothing or bedding, try to find those made using Lyocell, Modal or TENCEL.
Bamboo-made homewares are a different story altogether. Strong, durable and versatile, bamboo can be used in various eco-friendly forms around your living room, kitchen or bathroom. The densely fibrous natural wood is highly flexible which makes it easy to mould into homewares, such as cutlery, toothbrushes and cleaning scrubs.
Bamboo differs from ordinary hardwood, as it is actually a leaf rather than a tree. Typically trees are chopped up, with softer spots discarded where they are considered unfit for use. Instead, the bamboo leaf remains consistently strong throughout its length leaving less room for unnecessary waste.
Compared to plastics, bamboo offers many benefits. While plastic can hang around for over a thousand years before breaking down, bamboo is entirely compostable and can decompose from within a few months to a couple of years depending on your soil and local temperature.
Finally, don't forget about the aesthetic benefits - bamboo has a naturally golden hue which can help bring a calm, rustic charm to your home.
So are there any downsides to using bamboo around your home?
Whilst bamboo wood provides a great natural material, brands will often add in plastic components to make the final product. This means the item will not be compostable unless you manually extract the plastic bits.
If you're looking for some plastic-free cleaning tools for your home, take a look at our Bamboo Dish Brush Set. Supplemented with vegan coconut bristles, these scrubbers are biodegradable and a waste-free cleaning solution. Available as individual pieces or in a complete set, our brushes offer an eco-friendly way to keeping your home feeling fresh.
Do you use bamboo around your home? Tell us what bamboo products you use in the comments below!