Perhaps no other material has received as much press when it comes to “going green” as bamboo. And, I might argue, for good reason. It’s versatile (just read on to learn about the myriad of products that can be made from bamboo) and sustainable. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning, when the bamboo is still in the ground.
According to the American Bamboo Society, although it often ends up being used as a replacement for wood, bamboo is actually a grass that grows in climates including jungles and high mountainsides. It ranges in height from dwarf plants as small as one foot tall to giant timber bamboos as tall as 100 feet.
Bamboo is so popular because it grows quickly (it matures in as little as three years!), regenerates without replanting, and requires minimal pesticides and fertilizers. For these traits, bamboo is recognized as a green building material by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system.
But. (Sorry, folks, there is a “but” here.) There are a few sticky facts that shouldn’t be ignored when it comes to bamboo. For one thing, bamboo’s popularity is leading to poorly managed harvesting. Bamboo forests are being clear-cut, other crops are being ignored in favor of producing vast amounts of bamboo (not good for the soil or biodiversity, in case you were wondering), and in order to create higher-yield crops, pesticides and fertilizers are now being used where they weren’t before. It’s not a good situation. TreeHugger discusses the issue if you want to learn more.
When treated, bamboo becomes a hard, durable, attractive replacement for wood building materials, flooring, and furnishings. Ack. Wait. I’m stuck on the “when treated” part too. That’s because bamboo products are often treated with all sorts of chemicals during the manufacturing process, meaning even if your bamboo started out all-natural, by the time it gets into your home it’s likely laden with chemicals—even formaldehyde.
Wait a minute, Home Know-It-All, you’re probably saying at this point. So I shouldn’t be using bamboo after all?
Honestly? My advice isn’t to swear off bamboo before you’re even sold on why it’s so good. Because when it comes to purchasing sustainable, attractive, durable products, in many cases bamboo still can’t be beat. But when you’re shopping for bamboo, particularly if you’re buying a lot of it for building or remodeling, look for products that are formaldehyde-free, and be sure to check company claims about the harvesting and manufacturing processes.
That being said, if I haven’t completely scared you off (and hopefully I haven’t!) on to the fun stuff.
Increasingly the question is becoming not what can I buy made from bamboo so much as what can’t I buy made from bamboo?
Let’s start in the kitchen, where you can find bowls, cutting boards, spoons, baskets, and the like made from the material. Totally Bamboo offers a selection of all of the aforementioned products. And, it turns out, even when you’re picnicking you can use disposable Veneerware bamboo plates and utensils from Bambu (although, admittedly, I’m a proponent of dinnerware that you don’t throw away).
While you’re in the kitchen, how about a bamboo countertop? Or perhaps bamboo cabinets are on your wish list? I love the look of these cabinets, so much so that they’re near the top of mine.
And when it comes to bamboo for the home, Bamboo Hardwoods has it all—flooring, plywood, fences, furniture, wall coverings, and more all made from you-know-what.
How about some bamboo flooring? The Bamboo Flooring Directory provides links to a plethora of manufacturers and suppliers. Bamboo floors are beautiful, but I will warn you that this is one place where you want to investigate manufacturer claims. Making bamboo flooring involves a variety of steps, some of which involve preservatives and other chemicals. Learn more about the process of creating bamboo flooring from Building Green. And just today, I learned from Jetson Green about EcoTimber’s bamboo flooring, which is made without urea-formaldehyde and meets indoor air quality standards. Sounds good to me.
Oh, but one more warning: I know people who have bamboo flooring in their homes and say the bamboo falls victim to scratches and nicks as easily as, if not easier than, hardwood floors. (And that TreeHugger article I mentioned above supports their complaints—although people may tell you it’s as durable as hardwoods, the fact of the matter is it’s just not that hard.) That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t opt for bamboo flooring in your home, but you might want to consider other options for high-traffic areas.
Even beyond furnishings, cabinetry, and the like, you can actually construct your entire home from bamboo too. Check out Bamboo Living Homes, which showcases some gorgeous houses constructed from bamboo.
Now, I don’t usually write about fashion and the like here (remember, it’s the Home Know-It-All, not the Clothing Know-It-All!), but bamboo clothing and fabrics are worth mentioning. Why? Because when it comes to chemicals, they’re the worst of the bamboo lot! But don’t listen to me. Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, stated in a recent TreeHugger interview that the company doesn’t use bamboo because really toxic chemicals are used in the process of converting bamboo to cloth. And if you visit the website for Rawganique, you won’t find any bamboo either—the company won’t carry bamboo clothing because of the chemicals and acids used in the manufacturing process—but they have a great collection of hemp or organic cotton clothing instead!
Beyond the home (and your closet), you’ll find bamboo in all sorts of products. For instance, Liberty Skis even uses it in their skis. Or how about a bamboo bicycle?
Although you can’t buy it, this beautiful bamboo organ in the Philippines is worth a looksy. And these adorable giant pandas love to eat it. You can eat bamboo too—the shoots are used in many Asian dishes.
Or just for a little fun, follow green living expert Danny Seo’s lead and make some bamboo s’mores. Yum.
The Home Know-It-All