Bamboo or wood? Why we prefer sustainable European wooden kitchenware above bamboo kitchenware
Bamboo or wood? Is bamboo as sustainable as stated? And is bamoo kitchenware safe to cook with? Why choose kitchenware, tableware, or other products from one material and not the other? Because customers often ask us this question, we decided to explain to you in an article why Uulki opts for wooden kitchen utensils instead of bamboo cookware. Because yes, using bamboo in the kitchen and elsewhere is a trend that is continuing for several years. In stores you can find bamboo cutting boards, bowls, cooking spoons, salad servers and other bamboo kitchenware. But apart from kitchen utensils, you can also buy bamboo clothing, furniture, floors,, terraces, fences, etc. Bamboo is praised as a sustainable alternative for all kinds of materials like tropical hardwoods, plastic, steel, and so on. We at Uulki resolutely opt for local wood and we are dying to tell you why!
Why is bamboo so popular? And is its ecological image right?
Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, so it’s an inexhaustible natural resource. Every 3 to 7 years bamboo can be harvested, while wood can only be harvested every 30 to 50 years. So a lot of bamboo can be collected to turn it into all kinds of products. Also, bamboo doesn’t have to be replanted once it’s cut down, because the bamboo plant will sprout again by itself. On top of that, this plant requires almost no maintenance, can live on nutrient-poor soil and doesn’t need fertilizer to grow. Moreover, bamboo is known for its hardness, as a result of which it can compete with hardwoods. Finally, this fast growing grass filters a lot of carbon dioxide out of the air too. All these things make bamboo look like the perfect plant to create all kinds of sustainable products. So does bamboo only have benefits? We researched this question and discovered that bamboo is not per se ecological.
The largest amount of bamboo wood and bamboo products in our stores originate from China and this has many disadvantages in terms of ecology. The finished products need to be transported from China to Europe or other continents. This is usually done by sea freight which is probably the most environmentally harmful transport responsible for the release of a lot of exhaust fumes / greenhouse gas emissions. This is maybe the most important reason not to choose for bamboo kitchen utensils. Recently, companies have started experimenting with bamboo production in Europe, but for now this is not yet common. That’s why it’s better to opt for kitchenware made from local European wood instead of bamboo wood. Uulki’s wooden cookware is made from European wood. By harvesting the wood in Europe and by producing in Europe, our Uulki cooking spoons, spatulas, rolling pins, cutting boards, etc. have an ecological footprint that is way smaller than the bamboo kitchen utensils from China. Of course it’s important that the wood originates from sustainably managed forests.
Is bamboo safe? Bamboo kitchen utensils can, in contrast to wooden cooking utensils, contain the harmful substance melamine
Studies show that supposedly sustainable and 100% bamboo kitchenware does not always consist of 100% bamboo. How come? Bamboo is not a tree, but a type of hollow grass. Because of its structure, it’s not possible to slice a solid piece of bamboo out of a bamboo stalk and turn it into solid bamboo products. But how are bamboo products like bowls, cups, cutting boards, and so on, then made from bamboo trees? There are two methods:
Laminated, glued bamboo
While wooden cooking utensils, like cooking spoons and spatulas, are made from 1 solid piece of wood (except most cutting boards, the majority of bamboo kitchenware isn’t made from 1 piece, but from multiple bamboo strips. Bamboo stems are cut into pieces, carbonised and then glued together. This process takes a lot of energy, heat and (synthetic) glue. Uulki chopping boards are made from food safe glue by the way,..
Bamboo composite and the danger of melamine
The other variant of processed bamboo wood is bamboo composite. This is made from bamboo fibres that are boiled, dried to a powder and optionally coloured by means of carbonization (steaming under high pressure). Next, the fibres can be pressed together in all kinds of molds using (mostly synthetic) glue. In this way, you can create everything you wish from bamboo and every colour of the rainbow. Think about coffee mugs, bowls, plates, and so on. Melamine resin is added to make the powdered bamboo fibers stick together better and to make the cookware stronger. Melamine resin is made from melamine and formaldehyde, which are both extremely toxic substances. These harmful chemicals can be released when bamboo kitchenware is exposed to heat, for example when your cup, mug or bowl contains hot coffee or tea. Wooden kitchen utensils, on the other hand, are made from 1 piece, because they are made from solid pieces of wood. So no glue is needed to stick multiple pieces of wood together. Sometimes wooden cutting boards are made from pieces of wood glued together, but in that case harmless, food safe glue is used.
The environmental standards in bamboo agriculture from China versus wood from European forests
China has less rules concerning agriculture and the environment. Because of that it can not be ruled out that farms in China use chemical pesticides and fertilizers to grow more bamboo, faster, as to raise their incomes. These chemical substances are not only harmful when they come into contact with the bamboo stalks themselves, but also when they end up in the air. If many farmers use pesticides and fertilizers, pollution of soil, water and air increases.
Recyclability of wooden versus bamboo cooking utensils
Kitchenware made from bamboo is claimed to be recyclable and / or biodegradable, but most of the time this is not true at all. The majority of kitchen utensils made from laminated bamboo and bamboo composite contain synthetic glue and melamine. It’s very hard to separate the bamboo fibres from the toxic melamine, as a result of which recycling is mostly impossible. So, when you throw a bamboo cooking spoon on your compost heap, it will never decompose due to the presence of the synthetic substances that are used to produce the spoon. Also recycling is not an option, so the only way to get rid of the bamboo cooking spoon is by burning it. Wooden cooking spoons or spatulas, on the other hand, don’t contain any synthetic substances because they’re made of 1 piece of wood. That means there’s no need to use glue or resin to hold the wood fibres or wood pieces together. Because of this the wooden cooking spoon is biodegradable. Is your wooden kitchenware worn out after many years? You can just leave it behind in nature or on your compost heap where it will completely rot away after a couple of years!
Local wood from sustainably managed forests with biodiversity versus bamboo monoculture
Biodiversity is one the most important factors in a well-functioning ecosystem. Because of that, it’s important in sustainable forest management to plant sufficient different kinds of trees, bushes and herbs. As a result, more animal and insect species will thrive in the forest and ensure a natural control of all kinds of pests, as well as the reproduction of many different (fruit) plants and flowers. So, sustainably managed forests, where we get our wood, invest a lot of energy in retaining that biodiversity. A major factor in this is the careful selection of the trees that can be felled without affecting the ecosystem by the harvest. It will never happen that a sustainably managed forest will be cut down completely. The great opposite of biodiversity is a monoculture. Monocultures, agricultural areas without biodiversity, are common in crops such as corn and soy, as well as on bamboo plantations. In these nurseries only bamboo is grown, making it easy for plagues and pests to infect the whole crop once they figured out how to infect the bamboo. And because of the high demand for bamboo worldwide, many more plantations are being laid out in China to make sure there’s enough supply to keep up with the demand. But this also means that lucious forests must give way to the bamboo crops. Quickly, lots of adjacent fields are full of bamboo, causing pests and infections to take down all those neighbouring bamboo nurseries effortlessly. Once an epidemic has broken out, the farmers have no other option but using chemical pesticides if they don’t want to lose their bamboo crops and their income.
Uulki chooses for kitchen utensils and homeware from European local hardwood
If you compare the impact on the environment from bamboo wood with that of local hardwood, bamboo’s impact is way higher. Both transportation, production, deforestation for the construction of plantations and the presumed use of pesticides are accountable for this. The biggest benefit of bamboo is that it grows way faster than wood. However, as long as there is not enough bamboo grown locally, it’s best to opt for products made from local wood from sustainably managed forests. Like that, wood has a smaller impact on the environment and that’s why we resolutely choose for these local woods from Europe.
The benefits of local wood at a glance!
Uulki loves wood, but only local wood and not tropical! Here, we once more sum up the benefits of local wood for you:
- Low ecological transportation footprint: little transport required to bring from forest to production and to you. This is different with bamboo coming from Asia.
- Less processing needed to produce kitchen utensils from wood: harvesting wood, sawing and turning or carving manually or mechanically to the desired shape, is less labout intensive – and this more eco-friendly – than the production of bamboo cookware from bamboo and other raw materials, such as melamine.
- No monoculture and thus no need for pesticides: wood comes from mixed forests with a nice biodiversity. Bamboo on the other hand, is mostly grown in a monoculture farming system.
- Wooden kitchen utensils and cutting boards are safe: no extra substances are added to the wood (wooden cutting boards are glued with food-safe glue). Bamboo on the other hand, often uses the toxic substances melamine and formaldehyde ash binding agent.