How eco-friendly are bamboo products?

Bamboo has recently become a popular alternative material for many products — from socks to towels and even flooring — mainly because of it being supposedly eco-friendly. However, is it really as eco-friendly as it is claimed to be? Let’s take a look.

Why bamboo?

Bamboo, as a material for products, has a lot going for it. It is:

  • Anti-bacterial
  • Odour resistant
  • Anti-fungal
  • Hardwearing
  • 100 per cent biodegradable
  • 40 per cent more absorbent than even the finest organic cotton
  • Cleaner for longer than cotton
  • Easier to dye than cotton — it requires less dye, and it retains colour better
  • Soft to the touch — many claim bamboo bed sheets are softer than Egyptian cotton bedsheets
bamboo socks
Bamboo socks are a popular product

The ways bamboo beats cotton

Bamboo is grown without pesticides and is naturally resistant to insects and infectious bacteria. Cotton, on the other hand, requires a large amount of pesticides to be grown — even organic cotton isn’t perfect in this regard. This results in a higher crop waste too.

Bamboo is also a self-sufficient crop that only requires a third of the water that cotton needs to grow. It’s also self-replenishing and rarely needs replanting — cotton needs harvesting and replanting annually. One acre of bamboo will yield 10 times more crop than one acre of cotton will.

The problems with bamboo production

Bamboo fabric is still processed chemically, like cotton. It is possible to process it mechanically, which is less harmful to the environment, however it is labour-intensive, expensive, and the resulting fabric is not soft enough to be used for underwear. The chemical methods of production create some toxic by-products with can cause harm if not disposed of ethically. It could even be claimed that the end product from the process isn’t really bamboo anymore!

‘Textile miles’ is also an issue (shared with cotton), where even if bamboo is grown locally, it may be processed thousands of miles away, in another country. This means the transportation of masses of bamboo, which could instead be avoided.


The Canadian government’s Competition Bureau said:

“While such textile articles may be derived from bamboo pulp, they have not been made from natural bamboo fibre and are, in fact, rayon fibres made through a chemical process. Consumers may be paying a higher price for such articles on the assumption that the articles have environmentally friendly or health-enhancing qualities.”

Of course, this isn’t the case for all bamboo products; just the majority. So, if you are looking to shop ethically and in an eco-friendly manner, it pays to check with the manufacturers. Although, you will probably be able to tell from the quality of the product itself, also.

So, is bamboo eco-friendly?

Overall, while bamboo itself has many claims to being eco-friendly, the way it is currently most often processed for products is no better than the process used for cotton. However, some may choose it over cotton due to the ways in which it is grown and the additional benefits the fabric offers over cotton.

Published by

Lucy Ravenhall

Lucy is a long-standing editor of the Forge Recycling blog and loves writing about her environmental passions.