Single-use products such as paper towels contribute to a lot of waste, especially when people worldwide are using more than one or two per day.
New versions of paper towels made from materials like bamboo are said to be more eco-friendly than traditional paper towels, but is this really true?
In the grand scheme of things, bamboo paper towels are eco-friendly compared to traditional paper towels.
However, there are some aspects of bamboo paper towels that may not be as eco-friendly as they could be.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at bamboo paper towels to determine why they are a better alternative to traditional paper towels.
1. How Are Bamboo Paper Towels Made?
Bamboo paper towels are made the same way as regular paper towels. The only major difference is what they are made from.
As you’ve probably guessed, bamboo paper towels are made from bamboo. But bamboo can’t be used to make paper towels in its natural state, so it has to undergo a certain amount of processing first.
Once the bamboo is harvested, it is broken down into smaller pieces such as wood chips. These chips are then put into a machine along with chemicals, which are then heated.
This process separates the bamboo fibers from other substances found in the plant and turns the fibers into pulp. Once the pulp has been derived from the plant, it is cleaned and whitened, usually with the use of bleach.
The pulp is then run through several more machines that bond the pulp together, flatten it out, and then dry it.
In the case of two-ply paper towels, two layers are bonded together using light adhesive glue, the rolled up to make a roll.
2. Are Bamboo Paper Towels Eco Friendly?
If you’re looking solely at how the paper towels themselves are made, then bamboo paper towels are not that eco-friendly, especially when compared to regular paper towels that are made in pretty much the same way.
This is because bamboo relies on the use of chemicals to process it enough to be made into paper towels.
But if you look at the bigger picture, including what the paper towels are made of as well as their disposal, then yes, bamboo paper towels can be eco-friendly if the bamboo is grown the right way.
The problem with bamboo is that there is very little information available about how it is actually grown, especially from an eco-friendly and ethical standpoint.
Bamboo is native to Southeast Asia, including China which is one of the largest countries in the world and where a large majority of bamboo is grown.
But, at least one species of bamboo has the potential to be grown all over the world, except for Antarctica and some regions of Europe in which it gets too cold.
One of the benefits of bamboo is that it can be grown without fertilizers and pesticides, although that doesn’t mean that all bamboo growers grow it that way.
Plus, although bamboo holds the record for the fastest-growing plant, it can still take several years to mature enough to be harvested.
This means that bamboo is often planted on a massive scale, which can lead to deforestation as a result.
Bamboo has the potential to be grown in an eco-friendly way, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.
Where the bamboo used to make paper towels is sourced from makes a big difference as to how eco-friendly the paper towels actually are.
But besides growing the bamboo itself, there are other aspects of bamboo paper towels that make them more eco-friendly than regular paper towels, including their sustainability and the disposal of them.
3. Are Bamboo Paper Towels Recyclable?
Paper towels of any kind – used or unused – are not recyclable, even if they are made from bamboo.
When paper is recycled, the fibers get shorter and shorter every time. The fibers used to make paper towels are already short and are too short to be processed and turned into other products.
Plus, they’re often contaminated with organic matter after use, which makes them unsuitable for recycling anyway.
Even though bamboo paper towels aren’t recyclable, the roll they come on is – as long as it is made from cardboard.
4. Are Bamboo Paper Towels Sustainable?
Because bamboo is a renewable resource that is very fast-growing, bamboo paper towels can be sustainable.
This is one of the benefits of using bamboo to make paper towels since other types of plants used to make paper towels aren’t as fast-growing which can lead to higher levels of deforestation in order to keep up with demand.
But although bamboo paper towels themselves are sustainable, the bamboo used to make them may not be grown in the most sustainable way.
This is especially true if any land has to be cleared to grow the bamboo and unnecessary fertilizers and pesticides are used.
But, some areas are looking at using bamboo as a way to restore forests due to how quickly it grows.
Ultimately, it depends on where the bamboo used to make paper towels is sourced as to how sustainable the paper towels are.
However, in a general sense, they are more sustainable than regular paper towels.
5. Are Bamboo Paper Towels Biodegradable?
Bamboo paper towels are biodegradable and don’t contain any dyes that could harm the environment.
Although having the ability to biodegrade is an eco-friendly quality, it is only truly eco-friendly if the paper towels actually are allowed to biodegrade.
Even if bamboo paper towels get thrown away, they will go to a landfill. When they go to a landfill, they will biodegrade over time, but the rate of biodegradation will be much slower if they are inside a plastic trash bag.
Plus, bamboo paper towels are likely to biodegrade anaerobically in a landfill, which releases methane into the air and is not as eco-friendly as aerobic biodegradation.
6. Are Bamboo Paper Towels Compostable?
For the most part, bamboo paper towels are compostable and this is the most eco-friendly way to dispose of them. Composting bamboo paper towels should not have any significant negative impact on your compost.
However, you want to make sure that they are not soiled with anything that could harm your compost when the paper towel decomposes, such as paint or another type of chemical.
As long as you only compost paper towels that are soiled with food or clean, this is much more eco-friendly than throwing them away to go to a landfill.
7. Are Bamboo Paper Towels Better Than Regular Paper Towels?
We’ve already touched on some areas in which bamboo paper towels are better than regular paper towels, but now let’s look at them in more detail.
For starters, bamboo paper towels are more sustainable not only because bamboo grows faster than other trees used to make paper towels, but because it can regenerate on its own.
Bamboo can also be continuously harvested every few years, without the need to cut down the entire plant.
Other trees used to make paper towels – such as pine and spruce – are usually cut down completely in order to get wood from them. They then have to be completely replanted and grow up to 30 years before their wood can be harvested again.
This often leads to new plots of land being cleared in order to grow these trees on a larger scale so that more can be harvested at once.
Even though some land is likely cleared to grow bamboo as well, it’s usually a lot less since the trees can regrow on their own and don’t take as long to grow. And, more bamboo can be grown and harvested in a shorter amount of time.
As far as how each type of paper towel is made, they are comparable since the process is the same.
The disposal of bamboo vs. regular paper towels is relatively similar as well since neither are recyclable but both are biodegradable.
Ultimately, the biggest advantage that bamboo paper towels have over regular paper towels is that the plants used to make them are more sustainable.
8. Are Bamboo Paper Towels Reusable?
A lot of bamboo paper towels are reusable, which helps make them more eco-friendly than regular paper towels.
Although each brand is different as far as how reusable they are, many bamboo paper towels can often be washed and reused several times instead of throwing them away after one use the way you do with regular paper towels.
9. Are Bamboo Paper Towels Flushable?
Toilet paper made from bamboo is flushable, but paper towels made from bamboo aren’t.
The reason for this is that toilet paper is made in a way so that it breaks down easily in water, but paper towels aren’t.
Regardless of whether paper towels are made from bamboo or not, they should never be flushed because they can clog up the sewage system and lead to expensive repairs.
10. Are Bamboo Paper Towels Food Safe?
Bamboo paper towels are food safe because although chemicals are used to make paper towels, those chemicals are food grade.
Since paper towels are intended to be used for food, they have to be made under strict regulations that ensure that they won’t cause harm to the consumer.
11. Are Bamboo Paper Towels Antibacterial?
Studies have shown that bamboo fibers have no natural antibacterial properties, but some regenerated bamboo fibers do.
When bamboo paper towels are created from regenerated bamboo fibers, it’s possible that they might have antibacterial properties.
But, it’s hard to say if all bamboo paper towels are antibacterial so you should not assume it.
12. Are Bamboo Paper Towels Microwave Safe?
Bamboo paper towels are microwave safe because they do not contain any chemicals that could harm your food, yourself, or your microwave.
Bamboo paper towels won’t heat up or melt in the microwave, and they don’t pose a fire risk when put into the microwave.
13. How Do You Dispose of Bamboo Paper Towels Properly?
Since bamboo paper towels can’t be recycled, you have two options for disposing of them.
One option is to throw them away, which we already mentioned isn’t eco-friendly. But if they are soiled with food, paint or another chemical, this is the only option you have.
As long as the paper towels aren’t soiled with chemicals, you can compost them. This is the most eco-friendly disposal method.
If the bamboo paper towels are reusable, try to reuse them as much as possible before throwing them away.
14. Which Are the Most Eco-Friendly Bamboo Paper Towel Brands?
1. Who Gives A Crap
Who Gives A Crap originally made bamboo toilet paper but now make paper towels as well. Their paper towels are made from bamboo and sugarcane.
They are a Certified B Corporation that uses carbon-neutral shipping and donates 50% of their profits to global hygiene initiatives.
2. Grove Collaborative
Grove Collaborative is well-known for its natural cleaning products, and these bamboo paper towels are no exception.
They use plastic-free packaging and plant a tree for every 50 rolls that are sold.
3. Cloud Paper
Cloud Paper’s bamboo paper towels are free of chlorine, dyes, and fragrances.
Plus, their packaging is plastic-free, recyclable, and compostable.
2 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Bamboo Paper Towels
Even though bamboo paper towels are more eco-friendly than regular paper towels, there are some areas where they lack.
Here are some even more eco-friendly alternatives to bamboo paper towels.
1. Cloth Towels
Even though a lot of bamboo paper towels are reusable, they are only reusable so many times.
Cloth towels can be washed and reused an unlimited number of times. You can buy them or make your own.
2. Swedish Dishcloths
Swedish dishcloths are made from natural fibers, usually regenerated cellulose and cotton.
It is a highly absorbent mix between a sponge and a paper towel that can be washed and reused over and over again.
When compared to regular paper towels, bamboo paper towels are more eco-friendly – due to fact that bamboo is a fast-growing plant that can be grown without the use of pesticides.
But, there are areas in which bamboo paper towels lack in terms of eco-friendliness, including how the towels themselves are made.
If you’re thinking about making the switch though, you don’t have to have a guilty conscience because many bamboo paper towels are reusable to an extent, so they aren’t a one-time-use product.
Or for the most eco-friendly option, you can switch to reusable cloth paper towels that are reusable an unlimited amount of times.