Bamboo 101 for Your Household

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Families that are striving to live greener can make many small choices that add up to a big impact. Bamboo is a sustainable household option, if you pick the right products and places to implement it. Where does bamboo work best? Where will it have the most potential to do good? Are there any drawbacks to using bamboo?

The Pros of Bamboo

You hear “bamboo” and think panda bears, China, and oodles of bamboo forests just waiting to be munched up. This beautiful grass with a hollow stem, however, offers far more than just a source of sustenance for an endangered species. Bamboo is a sustainable, renewable, versatile material — it’s also vastly underused in the United States.

Deforestation contributes to plant disease, soil loss, erosion, and problems with the water cycle. When trees are cut down, the regulation of the climate and ecosystem are upended. Bamboo, however, is a viable alternative as one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet. It can mature in just a couple of years, compared to fully matured hardwood, which takes 30 to 50 years. Some species of bamboo can grow a whopping 35 inches in a day.

Bamboo doesn’t need as much water as trees to thrive and this hardy plant is so tough it doesn’t need chemical protection to discourage pests or boost growth. Plus, bamboo is antifungal, antibacterial, 100 percent biodegradable, and decomposes naturally in the environment. What’s not to love?

Well, back to China.

The Potential Cons of Bamboo

It’s important to consider where your bamboo products and household goods are sourced. Although bamboo cultivation offers a great opportunity for U.S. farmers, the United States imports most of the bamboo we consume. When bamboo is imported — pre- or post-production — it’s authentic bamboo, but what about the environmental impact caused by trekking these items across the globe? Imported bamboo products are likely to have a hefty transportation carbon footprint, so it’s important to weigh that aspect when you’re considering how these items fit into your lifestyle.

How bamboo is processed also makes a difference in its true sustainability. If a product hasn’t been chemically processed, like most bamboo products sold in solid form, you should be in good shape. Bamboo fabrics, however, are a different story.

Clothing and Fabrics

Bamboo is hard. Turning this plant into a soft fabric like viscose rayon takes chemical processing involving sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide. These chemicals are dangerous to a one-time wholly natural material, and they produce chemical runoff and make a major ding on the environment.

Nevertheless, there are greener bamboo fabrics, most notably bamboo lyocell, which is made using a closed-loop cycle so nothing toxic leaks into the environment. Just think twice and consider sourcing and manufacturing before buying bamboo towels, sheets, cleaning cloths, or clothing.

Household Goods

What you use to make your food, eat your food, and clean your food and dishes makes all the difference in your health and wellness. Some sustainable bamboo kitchen items include:

Personal Hygiene

Taking care of your body is about more than just the products you use, it’s about the tools you use to deliver that care, including:

Flooring

Solid strand bamboo flooring is an attractive, uniform option for the home. It consists of a solid slate of bamboo, unlike engineered flooring that includes only a thin top layer of bamboo. The only question is, what about the glue? “There will always be a fair amount of glue used to make bamboo flooring, since the grass will be made into strips that need to be formed into planks,” says building biologist Corinne Segura. “Most glues are fairly eco-friendly with low offgassing. You can find flooring without formaldehyde, but all replacement glues still have some offgassing of VOCs.”

While bamboo flooring can be sanded and refinished many times, just like real solid wood, it doesn’t do well in high or low humidity. And if you live in an area where water damage is a threat or large spills happen on the regular, warping could occur.

Ultimately, bamboo in solid form is the most ideal incarnation of this grass and, if you look hard enough, you can find a versatile list of household goods or personal care products made of sustainable, eco-friendly bamboo.

Feature image by Ellen26 from Pixabay

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