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Bamboo has been claimed as the new wonder-wood of the twenty first century. It is seen as environmentally friendly, sustainable and suitable for many uses including furniture, flooring, fabric, paper and even baby wipes, but all is not as it seems. Bamboo is sustainable but in the process to convert it to its many commercial products, non-environmentally friendly processes are being employed.

Bamboo is more sustainable than timber as it is actually a grass and matures within five to seven years as compared to twenty to seventy years for many species of trees. It is environmentally friendly requiring little or no fertilizer or pesticides and is very hard to kill; it spreads like a weed. Bamboo also has antibacterial qualities and used as clothing, is a natural fibre that breathes well, dries faster than other fabrics and is soft and silk-like. So far so good, but that’s where the positives end.

Unfortunately the many methods that turn bamboo from grass to the supposed eco-friendly product we buy usually require processes that are detrimental to the environment. For example, when the cellulose fibres of bamboo are made into material, namely viscose, the predominant method employed involves a chemical based hydrolysis-alkalization process followed by multi-phase bleaching that is clearly not something anyone would call environmentally friendly. To be fair there are limited companies who process the cellulose with water and don’t bleach the fabric, but they are the minority.

In the initial stages of flooring production the bamboo is cut into strips and boiled in boric acid (which can cause kidney damage and is used as a cockroach killer) or lime to remove starch and sugars. Later in the floorboard making process the glue used to laminate the veneers and attach the flooring in the home contains formaldehyde, although a small number of manufacturers are using formaldehyde free glues (small being the operative word), and as bamboo is a light timber the colorization process involves boiling and heating which makes it softer and therefore more easily dented, not the best flooring product after all. Bamboo also fades in direct sunlight so it is better suited to rooms that receive little natural light.

There is no Fair Trade certification for bamboo and one common method of clear-cutting the bamboo leads to soil erosion. The surge in demand for bamboo has led to habitat changes and loss of wildlife in some areas because native plants are cleared in order to make way for bamboo.

Some companies are getting it right but it is hard to know who is and who isn’t so the bamboo product you are buying could be making a positive difference or no real difference at all. Until there are transparent farming and manufacturing practices and meaningful certification for end products, the environmentally responsible consumer will be left wondering, “Did I just do something good for the environment, or not?”


Dionne Lister was born and raised in Sydney and apart from some minor overseas travel hasn’t moved anywhere else. She met her husband through surfing however has had no time for that lately because of her two young children, kindly bestowed upon her by said husband.

She is sensible and works to earn money, however loves writing in her spare time and wishes, as most creative people do, that she could earn her living from such a past-time. Dionne hopes her articles are informative and entertaining and would love some adoring fan-mail ;-)

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