How Green and Eco-Friendly Is Bamboo Flooring?

Bamboo flooring’s strong selling point is that it’s green and good for the environment, completely ethical, and just about the perfect building material.  Nearly every bamboo flooring manufacturer has jumped on the eco-friendly bandwagon.  Click on any of their websites and you’ll see many that are are festooned with green leaves and cute cartoon panda bears.

But is it really?

Environmentally, it is generally better than other types of wood flooring–though still far from perfect.

Socially and politically, it does leave a few things to be desired–depending on your politics, of course.

  1. No Fair Trade:  There is no Fair Trade certification for workers on bamboo plantations.  Currently, the only Fair Trade-certified company with any ties to the bamboo industry is one that makes…bamboo coffins.  Flooring?  Forget about it.
  2. Human Rights Abuses:  While tied to the point about lack of Fair Trade, it is worth illuminating this one individually.  Most bamboo is produced in China, a nation known for its wide-ranging abuses against human rights and freedom.
  3. Support of North Korea:  If you like supporting the countries that support oppressive regimes, then you may want to support China.  China is North Korea’s staunchest ally.  If you’re not already aware, North Korea, with its dictatorship and concentration camps, makes China look like a piker in the abuse-of-humans department.
  4. Clear-Cutting To Grow More Bamboo:  This one is the ultimate irony.  Bamboo is often touted as being eco-friendly because it saves trees from being cut down for flooring.  Well…technically true.  Those forests aren’t being turned into flooring planks.  They are still being cut down, but only to make way for new bamboo plantations.
  5. Outsourcing:  For opponents of outsourcing, there is virtually no bamboo cultivation industry in North America or Europe at this time.  True, you can support U.S. and European companies that import and sell bamboo flooring, but the bulk of the action happens overseas, in China.
  6. It’s All Glues Anyway:  Yes, bamboo on its own is tough.  Sometimes, it is frustratinglytough, especially when you’re trying to cut away bamboo that is encroaching on your vegetable garden.  But to make this material hard enough to withstand high heels, dog claws, and dropped silverware, it is drenched in aluminum oxide-based glues.  True, pre-finished hardwood floor has aluminum oxide, too.  But that’s an option (you could just as easily buy unfinished flooring).  With bamboo flooring, there is no other option.  Bamboo floor would not hold together without these additives.
  7. Formaldehyde:  Formaldehyde is used in the manufacture of bamboo flooring.  The Environmental Protection Agency mentions that formaldehyde, in high concentrations, can cause asthma attacks in asthma sufferers.  They also note that it may cause “eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions.


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