Crunch! Bamboo is like the fast-food of the panda world: low in nutrients, low in effort, but rather satisfying to eat. As such, the mammals will munch on 12-38kg worth of bamboo a day (!); it makes up 99% of their diet and is hugely important for their preservation. Somewhat surprisingly, the plant might be important for the planet’s preservation too!
What is bamboo?
Bamboo is mistakenly thought of as a tree. But due to its hollow centre, bamboo is actually considered the largest and tallest type of grass! There are more than 1,400 species of bamboo but only 7 of these tend to be used in manufacturing. Typical uses of bamboo range from housing - especially in Southeast Asia - to clothing, to household essentials. Bamboo is becoming increasingly popular, believed to possess the eco-friendly edge over materials like cotton and plastic.
Where bamboo grows
The most common source of bamboo is China, where it grows abundantly - comprising 3.48% of the nation’s forest cover. That said, bamboo is one of the most successful plants in the world and has laid down roots in five out of seven continents. India and Myanmar rank the second and third highest in terms of countries with the most bamboo fields.
Why is bamboo sustainable?
Like all materials, bamboo has pros and cons. It is widely considered to be an eco-crop because it is renewable, very fast-growing and easy to cultivate. Bamboo doesn’t even require replanting due to its self-regenerating roots and prevents soil erosion through its dense root network. But we’ll still need to dig a little deeper to understand the sustainability of bamboo products. Let’s start with the pros (for there are many…).
7 reasons to love bamboo
1. Produces 35% more oxygen than trees
Bamboo makes a generous contribution to the maintenance of all life on earth. One of the plant’s most impressive qualities is that it can produce 35% more oxygen than regular trees (according to the Guardian). Bamboo also sequesters carbon: a hectare of bamboo grassland will store 12 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide per year. So planting more bamboo would help to restore the planet’s atmospheric balance.
2. Stronger than steel!
When asking how durable is bamboo? We’d be wise to look at its history as a construction material. With a higher tensile strength than steel, bamboo is extremely resistant and resilient. Which makes it an excellent material for upholstery, accessory trimmings and even coffee cups! In its rawest form, bamboo continues to be an amazing building material, predominantly in Southeast Asia.
For some spectacular examples of bamboo architecture, see here.
3. Fertilisers: who needs them?
Bamboo certainly doesn’t. Due to its rapid and dense growth, bamboo farmers can get away with very little artificial intervention. The absence of fertilisers is what makes this plant especially sustainable versus materials like cotton.
4. Grows up to 3 ft per day
When farmed effectively, bamboo grows back at an astonishing rate. This is one of its key sustainability advantages, because the production of bamboo doesn’t necessarily result in the loss of green cover. It’s a renewable resource and is therefore more sustainable than many standard wood sources that can take decades to regenerate.
We love the lightweight properties of bamboo! In contrast to heavy woods like pine and oak, products made from bamboo tend to be smooth and portable. Consider our coffee cups, which are made from bamboo, and weigh next to nothing!
6. The whole plant can be used
Much like the flax plant (the raw material for linen), almost every part of the bamboo can be put to use. Bamboo poles or “culms” are used either for construction or timber, while the fresh shoots are often trimmed off for culinary purposes. Meanwhile the leaves are used in tea, or to feed livestock.
While the whole plant can be used, that doesn’t mean it always is!
7. Plastic alternative
Last but by no means least, bamboo products can help us cut down on plastic consumption. As a hard-wearing and lightweight raw material it works well for reusable items, while bamboo packaging is also increasingly a thing. Both prevent waste, by being biodegradable.
The Cons of Bamboo
One of the main problems related to bamboo use is loss of biodiversity. Bamboo plantations can become monocultures, which means that very little else grows alongside the plants - reducing biodiversity. The main producer is China, who provides little information on what land is being used to expand bamboo production and how it is being cleared.
Bamboo fabric is also a cause for concern, as it is not often produced sustainably. The most cost-effective and popular way is to dissolve bamboo in harsh chemicals, before spinning it into a rayon-like yarn. The chemical intensive process is not good for workers, and can result in waterway pollution. That’s why we don’t use any bamboo fabric, limiting our bamboo use to bottle lids and cups that require less raw material processing. We rely on eco-friendly alternatives to rayon like LENZING™ ECOVERO™ Viscose for those softer bamboo-like styles.
You might also be wondering: with global demand for bamboo soaring, what will all the pandas eat?! The answer is: bamboo. Of course! According to WWF, pandas rely on a different type of bamboo than the industrial variety so bamboo products shouldn’t be doing those gentle giants any harm.
To summarise: we think that bamboo is a wonderful, lightweight, natural material with a wide range of eco applications. Nonetheless, question marks over fabric production and biodiversity loss have made us think twice about using bamboo on a grander scale.