Mar 19, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Olivia Hahnemann-Gilber | Photo by Maren Greene

Last week, my dad called to tell me the pressing news that his friend had sent him a case of about 50 rolls of bamboo toilet paper for his birthday. I had previously heard of bamboo-based products such as toothbrushes and utensils; however, toilet paper made of bamboo was not an innovation that I was familiar with.

The company, Who Gives a Crap, produces a variety of household items using bamboo as an alternative, claimed to be more environmentally friendly than materials such as paper or plastic.

Many of us are aware of the increasingly dire need for sustainable alternatives to the common mass-produced materials which have been main contributors to anthropogenic harms inflicted upon the Earth.

However, can bamboo really be that much better, especially if it eventually becomes as widely used as paper and plastic? Are we truly making steps in the right direction with products such as bamboo toilet paper?

Just like every other facet of environmental sustainability, the answers to these questions are complicated.

Bamboo is believed to be an eco-friendlier alternative for a few reasons. It grows quickly, it can be harvested without requiring the use of pesticides, and it is thought to be biodegradable.

I will focus primarily on the question of biodegradability of bamboo products.

Columbia University student Sabrina Shih confronts the issue of composting bioplastics in her article “Lies of the Bamboo Toothbrush: The Plastic Industry’s Perverse Greenwashing.” She dissects the environmental impacts of the bamboo toothbrush and discusses the complexities of bioplastics in general.

One important takeaway from her argument is that, not all bioplastics are necessarily biodegradable; thus, a product such as a bamboo toothbrush could be advertised as a bioplastic, but some parts of the product may not be fully biodegradable. The conditions may also not be completely conducive to effective composting, as Shih also points out.

However, other sources indicate that bamboo, on its own, is biodegradable. So, if made and composted correctly, a bamboo product could have the potential to leave less of a trace on the Earth than paper and plastic.

In an article titled “Replacing Plastic: A Biodegradable Alternative” written by Joseph Burns at the Northeastern University’s Center for Research Innovation, Northeastern professor Hongli Zhu was recognized for the usage of bamboo fiber to create a food packaging material; according to the article, this product is able to degrade within 60 days.

Thus, there seem to be ways in which bamboo-based products could be promising in the path to a more sustainable future.

If you find yourself inspired by the idea of a possibly less guilt-filled purchase, there are a variety of Colorado Springs shops that sell bamboo-based products.

One excellent example is the Conscious Living Shop in Old Colorado City. Conscious Living prides itself on being a woman-owned business which strives to replace plastic products with more environmentally-friendly alternatives. They sell bamboo toothbrushes, dental floss, hairbrushes, and many other bamboo-based goods.

Another exciting business is Grass Sticks, which primarily sells outdoor gear partially or fully made from bamboo. One product which caught my eye was their ski poles, which are almost entirely made of bamboo.

Despite the complexities of the environmental impact of the bamboo product, it is heartening to see some companies start to reach towards a more sustainable Earth.

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