Greetings Sustainable Livers! 🌱

I am on a quest to discover which is the most sustainable sheet material for making furniture.

Found this article on Bamboo Plywood: "Is Bamboo Plywood an Eco-Friendly Option?"
https://www.ambientbp.com/blog/bamboo-plywood-eco-friendly-option it's well-written, however the post states at the top of the page: "brought to you by ambient bamboo flooring" image i.e. clearly "sponsored" (biased). So I am not treating it as a "reliable" or "scientific" source ...

MIT published their findings on the engineering properties of Bamboo: http://news.mit.edu/2014/researchers-study-bamboo-for-engineered-building-material-0723
but sadly no mention is made of the environmental sustainability.

From my research the Bamboo Plywood is more expensive (twice the price) and I need a strong justification to spend the extra money, e.g: if Bamboo Plywood is twice as sustainable (environmentally friendly) I can spend/invest the extra $$$.

If someone knows of reliable/scientific research indicating which is the most sustainable sheet material, (please share links), I would be very grateful! Thanks in advance!

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    My guess is that bamboo plywood probably doesn't have the economies of scale yet that traditional plywood production has. If the industry was supported, the price may come down (this is less likely if the production process is difficult, or patented). I have heard that bamboo is something like 4 times as fast growing compared with trees, so this in itself seems to make it worth careful investigation. Hopefully this helps someone put together a more complete answer.... :-) Jun 18, 2018 at 3:41
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    Even if bamboo grows X times faster, that doesn't necessarily mean it is "more sustainable". You could have X times as much production dedicated to conventional plywood, for example, and exactly balance production. Or you could have different levels of production and simply end up with different levels of product available on the market. Instead, what is likely important is the externalized costs of production. Is bamboo for plywood grown in a way that degrades the environment? Or enhances it? And since this is a comparison, take the answers relative to those for conventional production. Jun 18, 2018 at 22:18
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    I found a really neat Life Cycle Assessment tool from the American Hardwood Export Council. Birch is analyzed, but unfortunately there's nothing on bamboo.
    – LShaver
    Jun 19, 2018 at 16:59
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    ... and here's one on bamboo, from a partnership between a trade group, a manufacturer, and a university in the Netherlands. When I've got some time I'll look through the two and see if it's possible to compare directly and draw some conclusions.
    – LShaver
    Jun 19, 2018 at 18:29
  • @Jean-PaulCalderone good point(s). also we should consider the habitat for fauna that is created by the Birch plywood trees (while they are growing/maturing), etc. I'm really hoping someone has a comprehensive answer to this question at some point. :-)
    – nelsonic
    Jun 19, 2018 at 19:55

1 Answer 1


This is not an answer, but rather my attempt at a road map of what you need to know to answer your question.

Much depends on externalities.

Wood is an awfully cheap resource. You plant trees, and mostly ignore the land for 20 to 80 years depending on what you want. (Not quite true: It is usually worth your while to thin about 1/4 of the way through. High value hardwood plywood peeler logs are worth trimming the lower branches to 16 feet once the tree is 24 feet tall.)

Bamboo grows fast, but due to the nodes, I expect that processing it into plywood is more difficult. You need to be able to compare square meters of plywood per hectare per year.

Plywood is a specialized product. There is good reason that most plywood in house construction is now done with oriented strand board -- it's easier to make, and uses up more of the tree.

This in turn means that the relative merits are going to depend on alternate uses for the parts of the tree not used to make the product.

Both wood and bamboo use nutrients from the land. Most softwoods get adequate nitrogen from the air (NOx from lightning, nitrogen fixing plants) but several cycles of forestry and harvest can deplete soils of other elements. Good forestry ideally removes only the usable wood, and leaves the bark, branches, leaves/needles. In some cases this promotes pests, and can require some degree of processing (burning, burying, pesticides...) to complete the cycle.

Another factor is transport. If it fits into a sea can, transport is very low cost on the ocean. But getting from the forest to the plywood plant and from the port to the user can be expensive. These costs however are not external, and will be built into the price.

Another non-external cost is the glue to hold it together. Off hand I don't know why it would be different, but given the variety used in ordinary plywood, it wouldn't surprise me to find that bamboo has different requirements.

Glues however have their on external costs. In production many can produce some pretty ugly byproducts. After production some can outgas undelightful chemicals for some time. (Formaldehyde being one...)

Once you have a list of external costs, you need to put some kind of measure on them. That alone is non-trivial. (How does a pound of formaldehyde released over the first 10 years post process compare to 30% more waste?)

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