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I first came accross them being used for flooring. I thought they looked nice. And they’re sustainable. They grow in large volumes and are harvested every 5-6 years. Now there are clothing made from bamboo also marketed as eco -friendly.

Most of the eco-credentials of bamboo floors and bamboo clothing is because it takes only a few years for bamboo trees to grow. But a lot of people had already begun to question the process – chemicals used, the questionable labour practices, the cutting down of forests to make way for bamboo plantations, the durability of bamboo floors. Which, in the end, makes bamboo a not-so-green alternative.

We’ve brought you a collage of articles on the bamboo issue to help you make up your mind.

Bamboo flooring

source: Sustainable Floors 

Bamboo stalks are normally cut into strips and then boiled to remove sugars and any insects, followed frequently by drying in a kiln. The strips are then glued together to form a solid surface and in most cases, bamboo is available as a type of engineered flooring, i.e. the strips of bamboo are formed into 3 layers which help to provide additional stability and also compensate for the natural expansion properties of bamboo. This enables the flooring to be stable enough to be nailed down or glued down.

Be aware, however, that manufacturing quality can vary so always check the finish and in particular, the adhesives used to glue the bamboo strips together. Some manufacturers will actually use adhesives that contain toxic urea-formaldehyde, which totally destroys its eco-friendly flooring credentials. Generally, cheaper bamboo products are more suspect. Always check with the manufacturer or supplier to see which kind of adhesive is used and that they are complying with Europe’s E1 standard. This limits formaldehyde concentrations in materials to 0.1 parts per million (ppm).

source: Hardwoord Installer

In most cases the next step is the darkening process that brings out the color of carbonized bamboo. Strips are often steamed under pressure (shown right). Natural colored bamboo keeps it’s original appearance after being boiled to eliminate sugars and insects. The carbonization process reduces the overall hardness of the bamboo; one reason why we don’t advocate the darker bamboos in high traffic areas. They will show more damage given the right amount of punishment or use.

In most cases? Yea, we know it’s a broad generalization. Unfortunately with bamboo there are no governing organizations such as what we have in the states with hardwood flooring. This is one reason we see very cheap priced bamboo being sold. Whether or not they follow practices to insure a quality product is in doubt. It’s a real wild card when appealing low priced bamboo floors look attractive.

Are bamboo floors durable?

source: Article Alley

Bamboo Flooring has become a very popular flooring material in the last few years because it is a very environmentally friendly, sustainable building material. Unfortunately, because of this popularity, a large number of fly-by-night companies have started to import and sell bamboo flooring of poor quality. These companies oversell the durability and performance characteristics of bamboo floors and under-deliver on quality product. The result can be unhappy customers.

Bamboo Flooring is relative dimensionally stable. For installations in the US, especially the western US, look for a company like Fair Pacific (http://www.fairpacific.com) that kiln dries their bamboo to 8%-10% moisture. Most companies do not do this, and the result can be splitting or cracking. In addition, nearly all bamboo flooring sold in the US is semi-gloss, and when this scratches it can be very evident, especially on darker planks. So look for a satin finish, which shows scratches much less readily. Finally hardness has to do with how a plank will stand up to things like high heels or dog claws.

Bamboo grown in the eastern regions of China is best for flooring. The species here is nearly all Moso (also known as Mao) bamboo, and is at its peak when harvested at around 6 years. As I mentioned earlier, the natural bamboo planks are pretty hard, slightly harder than maple. Carbonized planks are softer, around the same hardness as walnut flooring. This is because the carbonization process involves “cooking” the bamboo, which weakens the fibers somewhat. there are more information in the site that would help you determine a quality plank.

source: ReNest

Now we are finding that the floors are not as desirable as we thought. There are often complaints about how easily it scratches, and now there is even doubt as to whether or not the quick growing grass is in fact as super-eco as everyone once said.

source: TreeHugger

The popular carbonized darker bamboos are comparable to Black Walnut, considered a soft hardwood, and the lighter natural colours test comparable to maple. (colour is achieved not by staining but by heating, and the longer it heats the softer it gets) It is like any wood floor- it is damaged by dents, scratches and the killer of all wood floors, high heels. Jazzy aluminum oxide finish or not, it is a natural material that should not be marketed as being harder or more durable than conventional wood flooring. …but it isn’t as green as it could be.

However it is clear that bamboo is not necessarily being managed in a sustainable fashion. It is true that it naturally regenerates, but forests are being cleared to grow it and it is becoming a monoculture. Although it is claimed that fertilizers are not necessary, in fact they are being used to increase yield. Research quoted in the report: “Recently, bamboo expansion has come at the expense of natural forests, shrubs, and low-yield mixed plantations . . . It is common practice to cut down existing trees and replace them with bamboo.”

Bamboo Flooring Lacks Credible Certification, For Now Dr Bowyer points out that there is nothing comparable to FSC Certification, ensuring that the forest has been harvested in a sustainable fashion. (We note that FSC looked at this last year but have not seen any certifed bamboo yet)

There is no Fair Trade certification, ensuring that the workers have appropriate working conditions and wages. Considering that it grows like a weed and is being manufactured by rural Chinese workers, and yet sells at prices comparable to local hardwoods, someone is making huge margins on its current trendiness. We think it should be the workers.

Bamboo Clothing

source: Organic Clothing Blog

The processing of bamboo plants into textile fibers is relatively harmless because caustic soda is the “main chemical used.” Caustic soda, aka sodium hydroxide – NaOH, is one of the ingredients used to reduce bamboo plants to pulpy goo in a process known as hydrolysis alkalization. Caustic soda is a harsh alkaline chemical that must be handled carefully, especially at high levels and under the high temperature and pressure needed for hydrolysis alkalization. As the old saying goes “The poison is in the size of the dose.”

Another toxic chemical in the processing of bamboo rayon is carbon disulfide which has been linked to serious health problems. Breathing low levels of carbon disulfide can cause tiredness, headache and nerve damage. Carbon disulfide has been shown to cause neural disorders in workers at rayon manufacturers.

source: LA Times

Aside from the small amount of mechanically processed bamboo clothing (which feels like linen) on the market , most bamboo clothes are made through chemical processing. This processing makes the bamboo cloth feel like soft cotton — but also requires some un-eco chemical use. As Lee points out at Organic Clothing, most bamboo fiber is “chemically manufactured by “cooking” the bamboo leaves and woody shoots in strong chemical solvents such as sodium hydroxide (NaOH – also known as caustic soda or lye) and carbon disulfide in a process also known as hydrolysis alkalization combined with multi-phase bleaching.” Both of those chemicals are linked to health problems for the workers creating the stuff.

To address both environmental and health concerns about this chemical use, many factories that produce bamboo clothing get certifications regarding both their practices and their products. For example, many factories get the ISO 14001 certification, which shows the factory has put in place some environmental guidelines to green its practices (For an informative closer look at the benefits and limits of ISO 14001 certification, read “Costs, Benefits, and Motivations for ISO 14001 Adoption in China” [PDF]).

Many bamboo products also get the Oeko Tex Standard 100 certification (right), which shows that there are no harmful chemicals in the finished fiber (even if chemicals were used in the processing of that fiber).

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