Bamboo: As Green as You Thought?

Bamboo: As Green as You Thought?

Allison Verdoorn
Aug 10, 2010

We've all heard the hype. As a fast growing grass bamboo is a renewable resource. So it must be good for the environment... right? Bamboo isn't always better. In their zeal to create what is popular for the market some manufacturers are not producing bamboo products in a sustainable and environmentally minded way. So how can you know? Here are some questions to think about before choosing bamboo over other materials. By shopping around and asking these key questions you can find the product that is best for you and for the environment.

1. Is bamboo more durable than the other material you're considering?
Durability determines the life of a material. If it's going to scratch and break down quickly then you're more likely to replace it and the bamboo may end up in a landfill. While many types of bamboo are considered to be as hard a red oak some are not and there are some applications where other materials are better suited.

2. Where and how is the bamboo harvested?
Some companies are using bamboo that is harvested using clear cutting techniques in China. The shipping alone can negate any carbon savings you were hoping to get. When looking at flooring sometimes a locally and sustainably harvested hard wood has a less negative impact on the environment than bamboo.

3. Are there any toxic substances in the finish?
Finishes that contain formaldehyde and other chemicals can really harm the environment. In addition to the environment, the chemicals can harm workers who apply them and even you when you put them in your home. Additionally, chemicals in the product may make it difficult or even impossible to recycle it after it has lived its life if your home. Make sure to ask the manufacturer for a list of the chemicals in the product.

4. Is the product produced in a environmentally conscious way?
Just because the product is considered "green" doesn't mean it was produced in a way that was kind to the environment. Some plants are able to use the waste products from their manufacturing to power the plant. Others are careful to limit the chemical exposure of their employees. A manufacturer that is truly friendly to the environment are more likely to create a product that is actually "green".

By asking these important questions and critically evaluating the life cycle, including the harvesting, manufacturing and disposal of the product, you will be better equipped to determine if bamboo is really the healthiest choice for you and the environment.

Want more information? Check out these resources:
Bamboo in Construction: Is The Grass Always Greener?
Bamboo Flooring (PDF)

(Image: Designbuildinhabit)

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