Bamboo nappies (or diapers) are made from a fabric that is softer and more absorbant than cotton, while at the same time is touted as being more environmentally friendly to produce. However, things are not always as they seem in the world of “green” and sustainable products.
Bamboo is generally considered to be a very sustainable plant as it is grown without pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers, and uses very little water. Also being classified as a ‘grass’ Bamboo re-grows on its own – the whole plant is not harvested: the roots remain, and regrow. And, it’s not a GMO crop.
Also bamboo fabric is biodegradable and, like other cellulose based fabrics, resistant to bacterial growth, making it excellent fabric for nappies. It absorbs up to four times as much moisture as cotton, again making it ideal for nappies. This also means you don’t use nearly as many bamboo nappies as you would cotton ones, which means less washing for you, and less water used.
On the other hand, manufacture of the fabric from the bamboo plant can be rather toxic, both to the environment and to the people involved in the process. There are two ways of producing fabric from the bamboo plant one chemical and one mechanical. Unfortunately, the chemical is the more common method used, and one chemical usually used in the process, carbon disulfide, can damage the nervous system of those working with it (and breathing it in). However, there is a newer chemical process some manufacturers are adopting which appears more eco-friendly.
Further, according to the 2005 paper by Dr. Jim Bowyer, “Bamboo Flooring – Environmental Silver Bullet or Faux Savior?”, the impact of replacing natural forest with bamboo plantations in China (where most bamboo comes from) has negative effects in both social and environmental terms. On the other hand, bamboo has a yield of 30-60 times more tonnage than cotton per hectare. And, there are efforts in China to rehabilitate degraded forest lands.
In summary, bamboo nappies are certainly great in terms of their absorbency and softnes. However, if you are looking for a sustainable product, definitely ask your favourite nappy manufacturer where their bamboo comes from, and what they know about the current state of the bamboo industry in China. It is also worth noting that hemp nappies are also far more absorbent than cotton nappies, and are therefore a viable alternative.
If you find a supplier you are happy with you can buy bamboo fitted cloth nappies, bamboo prefolds, bamboo pocket nappies and bamboo flats, and even wipes and disposable nappies can be made of bamboo.