Bam-boooooo-ed: No cheers here.

Photo by mike lowe |

I’m sure that all of you have heard that a “mild” controversy exists on whether bamboo is a sustainable source to harvest for clothing, towels, textiles, and flooring.  Most companies have jumped on the green bamboo wagon, heralding the sturdy grass as the latest and hottest eco-fabric known to man.

However, these claims have only been bamboozled by the Federal Trade Commission, leaving the public in a state of confusion and wonder.  Is bamboo sustainable? Or are we just fooling ourselves and buying into another gimmick?      

Firstly, let’s consider the benefits: bamboo is luxurious, soft, affordable, and it grows about a foot a day, making it quite a fast-grower amongst the plant community.  Not only does it grow faster than most grasses, bamboo doesn’t even require replanting because its root network will continuously sprout new shoots, pulling in harmful greenhouse gases that would otherwise drown us in a sea of pollution.  And the greatest part about all of this is that it grows without any poisonous pesticides and fertilizers.

But of course every sound idea has a hidden negative repercussion somewhere in the story.  For bamboo: it lies in the manufacturing process. 

Turning bamboo shoots into quality fabric raises environmental and health concerns.  This is mainly due to the strong chemical solvents used to heat the grass strands in order to form a solution that can be used to weave cellulose fibre.   

This multi-phase bleaching process can release harmful chemicals directly into the factory area, resulting in irreversible neural damage to nearby workers.

This is especially true if the industrial unit is situated in a developing country where adequate pollution control systems are lacking. In these cases, not only does the toxic chemical output harm employees, it can also escape through air vents and smokestacks, entering waterways and aquatic ecosystems.

What can we do? Well, it’s definitely a tricky situation.  There are huge benefits, but also massive drawbacks.  I guess in this case, information-gathering is the best solution. 

If you believe in the bamboo god-send, read up on companies before you make purchases.  Make sure that the products are certified by reliable companies such as Oeko-Tex, Soil Association, or other similar bodies.  I know that certifications may also have flaws, so once again do some more research. Get your hands dirty and take some time and thought before you buy things. Not only is that a good piece of advice for the topic of bamboo products, but also for over-consumption and mindless consumerism in general.

My last words: don’t  be bamboozled.