The criteria that are used to determine the ecological impact of various flooring materials are diverse and complex. With bamboo, you have a number of characteristics that make it seem like a very earth friendly flooring choice. However, there are subtle issues of regulation and long-term ecological impact that detract from its shining reputation.
Positive Ecological Factors Of Bamboo
First, we will take a look at Bamboo’s various earth friendly properties.
Regeneration: Bamboo can grow from seed to full harvest ready maturity in as little as 3-5 years. In some cases, bamboo will grow up to 24 inches in a single day. This is much faster than trees, which can take upwards of 20 years to grow to full height.
Further, when bamboo is harvested, the stalk is cut but the roots remain planted in the soil. These roots will then begin to regrow an entirely new stalk without having to be replanted. This cuts down on labor costs when replenishing harvested fields.
Harvesting Is Healthy: In most cases, periodic harvesting of bamboo stalks is actually healthy for the environment. That is because chopping the stalks down to size allows sunlight to filter down to the earth and reach some of the plants and foliage that don’t grow as tall. This can be great for renewing the ecology of a system.
Cleaning: Compared to carpet, you won’t have to clean a bamboo floor nearly as often, and you won’t have to use the same harsh chemical cleansers.
Basic maintenance will just require periodic vacuuming and occasional mopping with warm water.
Life Cycle: If properly installed, and cared for, a bamboo floor can last for up to 30 years. Refinishing periodically will help to reinvigorate the look of the material.
That cuts down on waste, as well as construction expenditures.
Recyclable: Bamboo can be reclaimed from old construction projects and used in new installations to give a floor a weathered, aged look.
Biodegradable: Bamboo is a natural material and in a landfill it will break down over time due to natural processes.
Erosion Prevention: Bamboo plants have particularly long roots that delve down deep into the soil where they grow. These roots spread out in spider-like veins and serve to bind the earth around them, holding it together and combating erosion.
Oxygen: Bamboo is able to generate 35% more oxygen than an equivalent planting of trees. Because of this, it is the most often used foliage in projects which seek to re-green degraded areas. It is also able to absorb greenhouse gasses.
LEED: Bamboo has been recognized by LEED as being an ecologically friendly building material.
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Negative Ecological Factors of Bamboo
While all of the above are shining examples of why bamboo is becoming very popular in green building culture, there are still concerns about the use of this material in flooring and architectural projects.
Overexpansion: Because of the popularity of bamboo, fields devoted to growing these plants are spreading, and are starting to take over land traditionally used for other foliage options. This is hurting biodiversity, as well as the ecological balance of the environment.
Lack of FSC Certification: Because bamboo is not regulated or rated by the FSC it is impossible to know if it was harvested in an ecologically responsible way, with sustainable practices. Because of this, you are forced to trust the manufacturing provider of the floor.
Lack of Fair Trade Certification: This means that there is no agency ensuring that the workers involved in the harvesting and manufacture of bamboo are being treated fairly.
Formaldehyde and VOC’s: Almost all bamboo is made with formaldehyde adhesive mix binders.
In some cases, these can emit Volatile Organic Chemicals into the air after installation, which can be harmful to your health. However bamboo is still far less toxic than carpet, and quality materials will have less formaldehyde in the mix.
Transportation: Because most bamboo is grown, manufactured, and shipped from Southeast Asia, the carbon emissions that are given off during the transportation process can also be an issue effecting the ecological viability of this material.
You Get What You Pay For
The bottom line is that at $2 a square foot and under the manufacturer probably isn’t using environmentally friendly processes or ingredients. You may also have to be concerned about the emission of VOC’s once it is installed. However, quality materials can be found at around $4 per square foot from reputable companies who voluntarily agree to abide by the highest standards of FSC and LEED.
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