How Eco-friendly Is Bamboo? The Ultimate Bamboo FAQ

In this post, we are going to attempt to answer the question ‘How eco-friendly is bamboo’ and many other questions that get asked about this super plant. 

Bamboo has been used for thousands of years in Asia. We can trace its use back as long ago as 7000 years in China.

This FAQ will give you a balanced view of how eco-friendly bamboo is by looking at several other linked questions. 

We plan to update this article with more content over time, so it becomes the ultimate bamboo FAQ.

Where is bamboo grown?

The majority of bamboo species tend to enjoy moist and warm tropical conditions. These conditions lend itself to being prevalent in 5 continents. 

These are the Asia Pacific region as well as parts of Africa, South America, Southern North America and Northern Australia.

Bamboo is an extremely robust and tolerant plant which can grow in some extreme conditions in terms of heat and height in which it can grow. 

However, China is by far the largest producer of bamboo in terms of the number of species and planted area.

How fast does bamboo grow?

There are around 1000 species of bamboo, so this question does have a definitive answer unless we drill down into some specifics on the species.

It has the Guinness world record for the fastest growing plant of any kind although it does not specify which species.

As a general rule, commonly cultivated bamboo will grow 30 to 100mm per day. 

If however, the growing conditions are just right in terms of climate and soil, then growth rates have been known to hit a whopping 91 cm in 24 hours. 

That would be a lot more exciting than watching paint dry!

Does bamboo regrow when cut?

If you cut the top off of a bamboo cane, then it won’t regrow. What will happen though is leaves will regrow from the cut part to generate more energy.

This energy is used for sprouting a new cane from the underground base and extensive root system.

Bamboo is a grass species so you can think of this in the same way as mowing a lawn. New grass growth comes up continuously.

Cuttings can also be taken from branches and will grow roots and form a new plant.

In summary, bamboo is a very renewable plant.

Is bamboo really antibacterial?

There are conflicting views on this. Bamboo plants have a natural antibacterial quality from a bioagent that it produces. 

How much of this agent makes its way into the final processed fibre is where things get a bit messy. 

This study found that natural bamboo fibre has no antibacterial properties compared with natural cotton.

However, because bamboo fabrics tend to be 40% more absorbent than cotton, it wicks moisture away faster, which will have benefits in reducing odour.

How is bamboo harmful?

Bamboo can be poisonous if eaten by humans or pets by creating cyanide in the stomach. Not that it was going to make it into your kitchen. 

However, there are some species which are eaten throughout Asia for and have been thousands of years.

It would be best if you also thought twice before planting it in your garden at home. If not controlled or treated correctly, it has been known to grow extensive root systems, invading neighbours gardens or threatening house foundations and patios. 

One way to avoid all this is to plant it in a container of some kind or use ‘in-ground’ barriers.

Is using bamboo bad for pandas?

The short answer to this is no. Panda’s don’t eat the typical larger industrial species that are typically grown for products such as flooring and furniture.

However, it depends on whether a conversion of a natural eco-system into a commercial bamboo forest occurred.

There is an FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) which regularly audits bamboo forests and ensures sustainability.

How long does it take bamboo to decompose?

In ideal composting conditions, the consensus on this one is 4-6 months for processed bamboo products.

This fast rate makes bamboo a perfect material for replacing plastics and pure cotton fibres.

Bamboo canes, on the other hand, could take a few years.

What can be done with bamboo?

Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash

Construction – Bamboo has been used to construct roads and bridges supporting trucks weighing 16 tonnes. It is also used in building schools and 1billion people today live in bamboo housing, saving the felling of countless trees.

Clothing – Bamboo has become the new hemp over time. From bedsheets to socks, bamboo can replace or blend with cotton to make fabrics more sustainable.

Furniture – Bamboo can be used to create anything from beds to tables and chairs.

Other products – From musical instruments to kitchen utensils, there are now many products available to buy.

Is bamboo better than cotton?

Fabric is where bamboo can get a little murky. On the surface, it appears a more sustainable option over cotton. 

Bamboo tends to grow without the need for pesticides and using one third less water. Non-organic cotton is a big polluter in terms of fertiliser & watering needed and chemical pesticides used. 

This is somewhat mitigated by GOTS certified cotton – You can read what this is and why it is essential in our previous post – Why GOTS Organic Cotton Is So Important For The Environment

Another element to consider is that bamboo rarely needs to be re-planted. As discussed previously, it can regrow new shoots on its own, whereas cotton needs to be re-planted every year after harvest. Bamboo yield is ten times higher than cotton for the same given area.

However, the process of transforming the bamboo into a fibre is where the problems start. 

Most available bamboo fabrics are a form of rayon which requires a highly intensive manufacturing process involving harmful chemicals including sodium hydroxide, sulfuric acid and carbon disulfide. 

These chemicals are needed to break down the cellulose material. The final product from this process can end up being a mixture of synthetic and organic fibres.

Again though there is s certification to look out for, this time it is Oeko-Tex. Any fabrics with this certification are produced with strict guidelines on the use of chemicals.

Is bamboo better than wood for the environment?

Living bamboo stores a similar amount of carbon as trees per given area. This report states that this figure is 100 to 400 tonnes of carbon per hectare vs 90 to 420 tonnes for trees.

Where bamboo then really comes into its own is the fact it allows a harvest every 3-5 years vs 10-30 years for trees.

Couple this with the low water requirements and no pesticides required and bamboo does shape up to be a great tool in our fight to reduce carbon.

What types of bamboo products are available?

Bamboo has made its way into many daily use products, from our EcoShoots bamboo cotton buds through to flooring and furniture.

We recently wrote a post detailing our top 10 bamboo products. This could be an excellent place to start if you want to investigate bamboo further – Top 10 Amazing Bamboo Products For Under £30

Conclusion – How Eco-Friendly is bamboo?

Bamboo has a considerable potential to help in the fight against carbon emissions. It’s fast, low resource growth coupled with growing popularity could help alleviate strain on our depleting forests and stem the way for a carbon reversal.

There is more work to be done for bamboo fabric to be considered environmentally friendly, but I am sure this will be solved through innovation. Where there is a consumer will, there will be a way.

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