Bamboo is the latest interios trend – but is it really eco-friendly?

Bamboo toothbrushes are one of the most popular eco-products on TikTok, racking up more than six million views.

Even if you’ve never seen one of these videos, you probably have noticed that bamboo has become extremely popular as a material for everything from pants and socks to chopping boards.

Part of the reason is that bamboo is perceived as an eco-friendly material, a byword for green – but does this image stand up to scrutiny?

How bamboo is managed is important

Bamboo’s sustainable reputation is based upon the speed at which it grows, with the Guinness World Record for the fastest growing plant belonging to one specific bamboo variety that increases by up to 91cm (35 inches) per day.

This makes it far quicker to replace than comparable materials such as wood from trees.

As Tallulah Chapman, communications manager for forest management certification organisation FSC UK, points out: ‘Bamboo can be used to produce a vast array of products, many of which would traditionally be made with wood fibre. It is famously fast-growing and therefore frequently promoted as a highly sustainable material.’

Bamboo is also often used instead of water-intensive cotton or fossil fuel-derived plastics. However, bamboo is not without its own environmental impact. ‘Its production can have negative effects on local ecosystems,’ continues Tallulah.

‘Natural forests may be cleared to make way for monoculture bamboo plantations, and the intensive use of inorganic pesticides and fertilisers can reduce biodiversity and soil fertility and pollute water courses.’

Paula Chin, sustainable materials specialist at the WWF wildlife conservation organisation, voices similar concerns.

‘Areas growing bamboo do not promote as much biodiversity as forests, especially in areas where land has been specifically cleared to grow it,’ she says. For some reassurance, consumers can look out for bamboo-based products that are FSC certified, Paula advises.

‘This shows that the material comes from sustainably managed crops, and not from areas that have been specifically deforested to grow bamboo.

‘It is not a straightforward topic area,’ continues Paula, ‘because the sustainability
of bamboo is actually dependent on so many different factors.’

This includes how the bamboo is utilised in the final product.

What bamboo is made into makes a difference

Bamboo can be used much like wood, mulched into paper or processed into a fibre for textiles including bamboo linen, although this is rare as it’s too expensive for mass production.

More commonly, the fibres are a raw ingredient in rayon and Lyocell, with the former particularly problematic.

‘Processing bamboo also has environmental impacts,’ explains WWF’s Paula Chin.
‘High chemical usage is often required to achieve the desired quality, and poor wastewater management can lead to pollution of local water systems.’

This accounts for the lack of organic bamboo on the market. “Bamboo textiles products often are not certified organic as the process to turn it into a textile fibre often involves a chemical and energy-intensive process,” says a spokesman for
the organic certification charity, Soil Association.

‘For bamboo to be certified organic by Soil Association Certification (using the Global Organic Textile Standard), the process of turning it into fibre has to meet rigorous standards including restricting the types of chemical inputs used, the wastewater generated and energy use.’

All this means you can’t assume that a product made using bamboo is the most eco-friendly option.

The three Rs still apply

Remember the Three Rs – Recycling is good, but Reusing is better – and Reducing better still.

While it does have certain advantages over other materials, especially over single-use plastics, bamboo’s growth, transportation and processing – particularly into textiles – still come with an environmental footprint.

As a result, applying the Three Rs in order is helpful when making purchasing decisions involving bamboo items.

On-the-go

Biodegradable bamboo cutlery, therefore, is an improvement on hard-to-recycle plastic cutlery, but reusable cloths trump single-use paper towels – even if they are made from bamboo.

Avoid single-use plastic and even disposable bamboo cutlery by carrying your own reusables.

Sea For Yourself Co Bamboo Cutlery Set

Buy for £6.95 from Sea For Yourself.

Pure bamboo lunch box

Buy for £9.20 from Typhoon.

Bathroom

Most bathrooms contain a lot of single-use items, including many made of plastic, so it’s a good place to introduce bamboo alternatives.

Happier Beauty four-pack of bamboo toothbrushes

Buy for £10 from Happier Beauty.

Naked Sprout Unbleached Bamboo Toilet Roll

Buy for £23.50 (£21.15 with subscription) for 24 rolls from Naked Sprout.

Pets

Next time you need replacement pet products, look out for bamboo rather than plastic.

Aldi Natural Bamboo Pet Bowl

Buy for £3.99 in store and at Aldi.co.uk.

Beco bamboo cat litter tray

You can also buy their bamboo cat litter scoop, food scoop and poop bag dispenser.

Buy for £16.99 from Beco.

Kitchen

Like the bathroom, the kitchen can harbour a lot of plastic that you can, over time, switch for bamboo.

Seep Plastic-Free Bamboo Dish Brush

Buy for £8 from Seep.

Hinch Bamboo Duster

Buy for £3 from Tesco.

Habitat bamboo spice rack

Buy for £18 at Sainsbury’s.

You can shop more bamboo kitchen storage at Habitat including Glass jars with bamboo lids (£4 each) and the Bamboo Bread Bin (£20).

Salter Eco Bamboo Rechargeable Digital Kitchen Scale

Buy for £44.99 from Salter.

Baby

Bamboo offers a great compromise when you want to cut out baby products containing single-use plastic – but switching to reusable items feels overwhelming.

The Cheeky Panda biodegradable bamboo baby wipes

Buy for £2.99 from Boots.

Sass & Belle Woodland Baby Bamboo Spoons

Buy for £5 from Sass & Belle.

The matching Woodland Fox Bamboo Plate costs £7 at Morrisons.

Wild & Stone’s bamboo baby hamper

Buy for £25 from Wild and Stone.

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through one of these links but this never influences our experts’ opinions. Products are tested and reviewed independently of commercial initiatives.

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