I think we can all agree that we need to find sustainable options to replace materials like hardwood and plastic. Maybe even cotton, and certainly the synthetic fabrics that produce microplastics.

Bamboo products are popping up all over the place as an option to replace all these, but is bamboo eco-friendly? Or is it just another greenwashed decoy to keep us buying?

We’ve certainly all seen the wide variety of bamboo products now available. These products are usually touted as eco-friendly, but they may not be as green as they seem.

I decided to do some digging to see if bamboo is really all it’s cracked up to be. And I was a little surprised at the answer.

It turns out that bamboo is a great alternative for some things, but it’s not always the best choice.

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The most renewable resource.

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Easy to grow.

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Good for the environment.

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Safe and sanitary.

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Great hardwood replacement.

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Not a good fabric replacement.

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Not a good plastic alternative.

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TL;DR

The most renewable resource.

Bamboo has been called the fastest-growing plant in existence. It’s even in the Guinness Book of World Records! But that statement is only partly true.

There are many species of bamboo, and only one made it into the record book. But it all grows pretty fast. Certainly much faster than a tree does.

The fastest-growing bamboo grows up to 36 inches (91 cm) in a day. That’s three whole feet! And they can reach over 98 feet (30 meters) tall.

Most bamboo regrows to its adult plant size in three to five years, some take up to seven. 98 feet in three to seven years … yeah, that’s pretty darn fast.

is bamboo eco friendly - bamboo plants
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You may be thinking that’s really fast for a wood plant to grow. And it is, but bamboo is a grass, not a tree, and grasses grow fast.

Easy to grow.

Bamboo probably grows so fast and tall because it’s very easy to grow. Bamboo is naturally pest-resistant, which means no pesticides are needed to grow it. And it uses far less water than other crops, like cotton.

The canopy and root system of bamboo prevents soil erosion and helps rebuild eroded soil. So it’s a great crop for keeping farmland solid and fertile.

Bamboo can grow most places, but it thrives best in humid areas. Twelve states in the US can boast commercial bamboo farms today. And they are especially thriving in places like Florida and Georgia where they’ve got that humid weather.

Home gardeners in the US can grow most types of bamboo. Even if your weather is not humid.

Bamboo makes a great privacy screen or windbreak. Or, if you like bamboo shoots as a snack, you can probably grow them in your vegetable garden.

is bamboo eco friendly - bamboo privacy screen
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Make sure you research the different types of bamboo and how they grow before you plant any. Personally, I’m in a desert climate (technically), but I might just look into that privacy screen idea.

I mean, bamboo was the first plant to re-green after the nuclear blast at Hiroshima … I’m guessing it can survive here too. The question is just how well it will flourish.

Good for the environment.

In addition to reducing erosion, bamboo is also great for the Earth’s atmosphere. It renews our air supply by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. (Fresh air is another great reason to put a bamboo privacy screen in your yard!)

Research has demonstrated that bamboo can absorb as much as 12 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per year. That’s about 4.85 tons per acre of bamboo. Compare that to an acre of trees, which brings in about 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide each year, and you’ll see that bamboo nearly doubles the carbon intake of trees.

Part of the reason for this absorption rate is the speed at which the plants grow. Think of it as a metabolism. Plants use photosynthesis to fuel their growth. This process breaks down carbon dioxide. So, the faster the plant grows, the more carbon dioxide it will burn.

is bamboo eco friendly - photosynthesis
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The same process releases oxygen, so bamboo is also an excellent source of oxygen too. I had a harder time finding hard stats on how much oxygen is produced by bamboo versus trees, but here’s what I learned:

  • An acre of trees (not bamboo) per year produces the amount of oxygen consumed by 18 people annually.
  • One tree (not bamboo) produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year.
  • A single, fully grown bamboo tree produces enough oxygen for one adult human in a year.
  • A stand of bamboo will product roughly 30-35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees (not bamboo).

Safe and sanitary.

Bamboo is naturally antibacterial and antifungal. Which means is a safe alternative to plastics and wood in the kitchen.

I love my bamboo cooking utensils! There’s no fear of them melting if I rest it on the hot pan, and I can pop them in the dishwasher, unlike wooden utensils that degrade faster from the wash process.

A bamboo cutting board is more sanitary than its wooden counterpart. Since wood is porous and absorbs more water, bacteria can find little hidey-holes to hang out in.

Bamboo is also a safe and healthy food source. The tender little shoots have been a staple food in Asian culture for centuries. Like other veg, bamboo shoots are low in fat and calories, but high in fiber. They’re also high in potassium. Serve them up in salads, soups or as a side dish to your favorite entrée.

Great hardwood replacement.

Humans have been using trees for a lot of stuff, for as long as we’ve existed. We build homes and buildings with it, make furniture and paper. Heck, we literally wipe our bums with trees.

It takes decades for trees to grow to maturity and we lose a lot of carbon-filtering power during that time. Bamboo’s ability to regrow so quickly makes it a good alternative to hardwoods at first glance, but can it really replace hardwood?

Bamboo is super strong. It’s even stronger than steel! At least the tensile strength of bamboo, which clocks in at 28,000 PSI is higher than steel, which boasts a measly 24,000 PSI.

Bamboo is also resistant to termites and it does not knot like wood. Both of these things make it more durable and longer-lasting. Great for flooring, cabinetry, and construction. Like the gorgeous bamboo cabinets in the image below.

is bamboo eco friendly - bamboo cabinets
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And lastly, it’s very flexible. This makes it a great material for woodworkers and craftsmen.

In the end, it seems that bamboo is a great alternative for products typically derived from wood. But, buyer beware, the quality of the product still depends on the quality of the craftsmanship.

For example, cheap bamboo floors may be made using glue, rather than properly pressing the fibers together. This will lead to a weaker product. As with all things, you generally get what you pay for.

Not a good fabric replacement.

Bamboo clothing and other items made with bamboo-based fabrics increased in popularity. Many people are offering it as a sustainable replacement for cotton because it uses less water to grow and does not require pesticides.