Charlie Bedwell explores the craze of bamboo as an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative material. Is bamboo production really as sustainable as it’s claimed to be? It’s all a bit bamboozling.
Recently, suppliers across the globe have been swapping environmentally harmful materials with bamboo. We now have access to bamboo toothbrushes, plates, cups, flooring, makeup brushes, clothing and even bamboo beer! But what drove this change and is it for the best?
Using bamboo, as opposed to wood, has many environmental benefits. Wood that would have otherwise been used to make a lot of these products can take between thirty and fifty years to grow, whereas bamboo takes only between four to seven years to mature. With bamboo being a much smaller plant with much greater yield, the amount of space required by those who are growing it will be substantially smaller than if they were to grow trees. This means a reduction in disruption to natural habitats and the damage that this can cause.
Habitats are also protected on a smaller scale in relation to the pesticides that are required to grow trees and bamboo. Trees require a lot of protection from pesticides to grow whereas bamboo is much more resilient. Pesticides are associated with the disruption of eco-systems and contaminating food and drink with harmful chemicals. Pesticides aim to kill insects that are damaging crops but in doing so cause much more damage. It is often the case that other animals and insects are inadvertently killedby the use of pesticides.
A lot of damage also occurs when pesticides enter rivers. Pesticide drift, the movement of pesticides from one area to another, has been the cause of water contamination and an increase in the death of fish nearby. By choosing bamboo over wood, you are reducing the amount of chemicals that destroy our food, water and eco systems.
As well as reducing habitat destruction, bamboo may play an important role in stabilising the atmosphere. Bamboo can produce 35% more oxygen than treesand absorb 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare, per year. This could make a significant difference in the coming years and help to reduce the effects of air pollution across the globe. The waste that it produces is also minimal with 2-5% of its biomass wasted as opposed to 10-30% in treesagain helping people and the environment alike.
Growing bamboo can also be great for the people who sell it. Bamboo is an extremely resilient plant that is drought tolerant. This gives people a greater guarantee of a successful yield. For those who are growing plants or crops in areas that are susceptible to erosion, bamboo may also be beneficial. It can help to reduce erosionand therefore save more crops for people to profit from.
However, nothing is perfect, and bamboo does have its downsides. The glue that is used to hold bamboo together in some products is not regulated. This means that the product could be using harmful chemicals or be easily breakable if the glue is poor quality. Before buying bamboo, check out the seller and what chemicals they are using to make sure you are buying a quality, and environmentally-friendly, product.
This being said, a much larger problem is facing us with the increase in bamboo sales. Bamboo is not a natural habitat for many animals and with the increase in its popularity, forests that habitats for many animals are being cut down to make way for bamboo. Again, we find ourselves facing the problems of deforestation. One of the only ways to avoid this is to buy sustainably. Enquire about the products you are buying or look out for sustainable advertising on the packaging.
In summary, like most things, bamboo has its pros and cons. If bought sustainably it can be great for the people who are selling it, the habitats that might be saved and the stabilising of the atmosphere. However, if grown unsustainably, bamboo may just be another factor in the increase of deforestation and the devastating effects that it has had on animal and human life.
About the Author – Charlie is an ex psychology student nowadays tutoring English to primary and secondary students. She’s currently taking WILD’s message, and spreading it all around Reading!