Are Bamboo Coffee Cups Environmentally Friendly?

reusable coffee cups

Bamboo Eco Mug

Bamboo reusable cups are inexpensive and widely available. And they are made from bamboo right? Making them natural, environmentally friendly, biodegradable and sustainable.

Or are they? Unfortunately, the marketing doesn't always give the whole picture.

Bamboo coffee cups are made with bamboo fibres that are then glued together. The glue used is made from formaldehyde and melamine both of which have suspected health issues. And while melamine is not considered a dangerous substance this only applies so long as certain conditions are met.

One of those conditions is that it is kept under 70 degrees celsius.

Are bamboo coffee cups safe?

Full disclosure, we are not health experts. However, the available research is enough for us to have chosen not to stock bamboo coffee cups.

While melamine may be perfectly safe at low temperatures, and while the ideal temperature for a cup of coffee may not exceed those temperatures we have decided that for us this is a risk we are not willing to take when there are so many other sustainable options available.

Instead we have chosen the Gosip rice husk cups which look very similar, perform in a very similar way and are more environmentally-friendly (rice husk is a waste product). Rice husk is naturally high in silica and has short fibres that are naturally water-resistant meaning there is no need for melamine.

Are cups made from sustainable bamboo environmentally friendly?

This is a tough question as it's actually quite subjective as it depends on how you are looking at it.

Bamboo has great eco-credentials as it grows incredibly quickly without the need for chemicals and can be harvested without damaging the plant or the soil.

Bamboo can also be used in seemingly endless ways. It's super strong so makes a great building material and scaffolding. It is naturally antibacterial so makes a great material for kitchen countertops and chopping boards. And the fibres can be turned into everything from socks to coffee cups.

However once you get to breaking down the fibres and turning them into fabrics or cups etc you start to need chemicals and high amounts of energy which reduces the eco-credentials. What was once a naturally eco-friendly and biodegradable material becomes a completely different material that behaves in a completely different way.

By the time bamboo has been turned into a coffee cup it is no longer biodegradable in any real sense and it cannot be recycled. Now that doesn't mean that it's not better for the environment to use a reusable bamboo cup than a 100 or a 1000 single-use cups. It is. It just means that they might not be as eco-friendly as we are initially led to believe.

Next up: Why use a reusable coffee cup?