Why is bamboo so popular in sustainable products?

Bamboo is a great sustainable alternative to many plastic products, but there are a few things you should look out for when opting for this solution. 

Bamboo's Street Cred

  • Certain species of bamboo ( 45 genera for the botanists ) have been recorded as the fastest growing plant growing at a rate of up to 91 cm per day [2].
  • Bamboo has a higher compressive strength than wood, brick and concrete and exhibits a tensile strength that rivals steel [4].
  • It's naturally pest resistant [3], which means no pesticides are needed to grow it.
  • It helps rebuild eroded soil [5].
  • It's naturally antibacterial and antifungal [6].
  • It requires far less water than similar plants (e.g. cotton) [6].
  • After being chopped down, it regrows to its adult plant size in 3-5 years [7].
  • It produces 35% more oxygen than similar plants.
  • If it hasn't been chemically processed, it's compostable.

Overall, it's an amazing plant. When it's unprocessed as, for example, in non-bleached toothbrushes (or cutlery if you're a super fan), it's a great sustainable choice. However, things get a bit ruined when people start adding to it.

Bamboo Stardom

Whilst bamboo is naturally pest resistant, farmers are starting to grow it as a monocrop [3]. That in itself reduces biodiversity and can lead to an increase in pests. This, in turn, means the use of pesticide becomes necessary [3]. There's also some evidence that farmers are using chemical fertilisers to increase their yields [3].

Farmers are incentivised to plant as much bamboo as possible in China, even in areas that may not be suitable for it. This encourages deforestation and threatens eco-systems. On the other hand, it's rapid growth slows down deforestation for farming or growth of other wood sources.

A Star or a Comet?

We have found one study indicating that bamboo could in fact act more like rice and emit carbon dioxide throughout its life time. This study has been criticised by scientists explaining:

  • Two plants make up too small a sample size for any reasonable conclusions [8].
  • Twenty-four hours isn't long enough to draw reliable conclusions [8].
  • Extrapolating over eight years introduces too much uncertainty [8].
  • Carbon emissions could vary greatly during different growing seasons and with bamboo age [8].
  • To really assess the net impact of a bamboo forest on the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, more variables would have to be measured, such as emissions from soil microbes [8].

To conclude from this limited study that bamboo may be a net carbon emitter is "misleading and unacceptable", scientists wrote [8]. 

Look at my bamboo dress! It's so leafy.

Let's get right to it - when it comes to flaunting some beautiful bamboo clothing, you might be a bit disappointed.

  •  There are two methods of creating fabric with bamboo: mechanically or chemically [3].
  • The mechanical option is labour intensive and expensive, resulting in a not-so-soft end product [3]. This makes it a rare choice for manufacturers.
  • The chemical option requires the use of chemicals which are extremely harmful to the environment and workers' health [3]. Chemical runoff from whoever manufactured the fabric is detrimental to local environments and aquatic life [3]. 
  • About 50% of hazardous waste from rayon production cannot be recaptured and reused and goes directly into the environment.
  • If the bamboo is instead processed into lyocell then the clothing is considerably more greener. It uses a closed-loop process to recapture and reuse 99% of the chemical solution. 
  • The brand TENCEL who owns the fabric lyocell was awarded the “European Award for the Environment” by the EU for their process.

Aw, Pandas

Pandas are great. You might be wondering if bamboo growing for products has a detrimental effect on pandas. Luckily, the answer is no. Pandas live in the mountainous areas of central China, well away from areas where giant Moso bamboo grows. They don't even eat it, which is why our bamboo products are only Moso bamboo.  

Conclusion

At Tecorra you won't find bamboo clothing. We need to do more research into Lyocell and compare this between other options such as hemp before making any decision. 

We do offer other bamboo products, sourced from companies that are committed to providing Moso Bamboo, grown by farmers that have not cleared ancient forest and manufactured with no, or minimal chemicals. All bamboo products we sell are still able to fully break down and any ink designs are vegetable based.

References

  1. Farrelly, D. (1984). The Book of Bamboo. Sierra Club Books. ISBN 978-0-87156-825-0 ( https://archive.org/details/bookofbamboo00farr )
  2.  Guinness World Records: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/fastest-growing-plant/
  3. Carter, K., 2008. Pandering to the green consumer. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/aug/13/bamboo.fabric
  4. Ogunbiyi, A., Olawale, O., Tudjegbe, E., Akinola, S. R. Comparative analysis of the tensile strength of bamboo and reinforcement steel bars as
    structural member in building construction. 
    http://www.ijstr.org/final-print/nov2015/Comparative-Analysis-Of-The-Tensile-Strength-Of-Bamboo-And-Reinforcement-Steel-Bars-As-Structural-Member-In-Building-Construction.pdf
  5. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2018. Bamboo for land restoration. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9f5f/08a8fc8c68669ed0cbd7077b1a12950e9100.pdf
  6.  Afrin, T., Tsuzuki, T. and Wang, X., 2009. Bamboo fibres and their unique properties. https://dro.deakin.edu.au/eserv/DU:30020680/tsuzuki-bamboofibres-2009.pdf
  7. Mera, F.A.T., Xu, C., 2014. Plantation management and bamboo resource economics in China. http://revistas.uteq.edu.ec/index.php/cyt/article/view/93
  8. Howard, B. C., 2016. Bamboo's ability to store carbon called into question. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/03/160324-bamboo-materials-carbon-dioxide-emissions-sequestration/

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