Part 4 – Is Bamboo a good sustainable alternative to timber? – Bamboo flooring is a great material in many respects and is widely regarded as a very sustainable product. It is fast growing, strong, cost effective and available in many different shades and colours. Due to its structure it is also available in many different grades including plain pressed (enhancing the natural characteristics) or side pressed (disguising the characteristics).
Plain pressed Bamboo which displays the natural characteristics of the material.
Side pressed Bamboo which disguises the natural characteristics of the material.
There are some negative aspects to bamboo flooring. Firstly, in some parts of the world it is farmed on a mass scale that involves huge quantities of pesticides and herbicides to keep the plants alive. Large areas are devoted to farming this crop, which is not conducive to supporting animal and plant life in the same way as a well-managed forest can.
Secondly, taking bamboo from a raw material to a flooring product is a very labour intensive process. It involves cutting, gluing, pressing and heating, which all contribute to the strength, colour and texture of the end product. Many bamboo products contain formaldehyde, which is a highly toxic chemical, however, there are suppliers who produce low formaldehyde products as well as formaldehyde free alternatives.
A living bamboo plant before it has been harvested.
Examples of different types of Bamboo panel. The cross section demonstrates the amount of work required to get a plant into a panel form.
Bamboo is a great material that I would thoroughly recommend but it is important to recognise that some of the claims to sustainability can be misleading. Essentially Bamboo can be a very good alternative to timber, however, like most products it is not inherently sustainable and largely depends on whether or not the harvesting and processing is carried out in a sustainable and respectful manner. Keep a look out for the necessary certifications and ask the relevant questions of suppliers and you can largely ensure that the supply chain is reliable and of good quality.