Bamboo is the new darling of the eco-friendly world as the perfect substitute for plastic, event though it's been around for ages and extensively used in Asia since centuries ago. But is it really sustainable?
In a snapshot
Bamboo is a very resilient and versatile material that can grow in most areas of our planet and sustain extreme temperatures. When compared with plastic, it requires no chemical process to be transformed and its waste is naturally biodegradable so it doesn't harm nature when discarded. Moreover, it can support local economies in less developed countries, contributing to socio-economic welfare. All in all, when we look at its whole Life Cycle Assessment, bamboo is way more sustainable and should be preferred over plastic and wood.
For the avid readers
Sustainability is far more complex than whether the material we use is organic and biodegradable (e.g. bamboo, wood) or not (e.g. plastic and other synthetic materials). The extraction of wood from tropical forests, for example, although an organic and biodegradable material, can greatly affect animals and plants living in that ecosystem. There is hope, however, as net forest loss (extracted minus reforested) reduced from 7.3 million ha per year in the 90's to 3.3 million ha per year in more recent years.
So when we look at sustainability, we need to take a holistic approach, an end-to-end look at the production chain that leads to that product and assess the impact caused through each of its steps. In the scientific world, this is usually referred to as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA looks at all the relevant inputs and outputs related to a product and evaluates the environmental impact of each of the phases.
We lose 3.3 million hectares of forest per year globally :(
With bamboo we would look at the extraction from nature (and reforestation), transformation into a specific product, shipping, product lifetime and destination when it is discarded. When compared with plastic, just by looking at the process of transforming crude oil (the main source of synthetic plastics) on one end, and the impact of it being discarded (since it's not biodegradable), we can see straight away that bamboo is a more attractive option!
Of course there are details in that production chain that need a closer look. At face value, wood and bamboo would have the same advantages over plastic, right? Well, maybe not. If we look at the volume of raw material we need to produce billions of products for the world's population, wood can be a very scarce resource. Trees take years to grow and require special conditions to be replanted (think Oak, Cedar and Beech wood).
Bamboo, on the other hand, is the fastest growing plant in the world - some species recorded a growth rate of 3 feet in only 24 hours! It is also widely available globally and can grow in almost any terrain as its roots go deeper underground to seek nutrients from belowground carbon stores. Bamboo is very resilient and adaptable to extreme temperatures - really important in a world plagued by climate change. Finally, its extraction and reforestation also requires lower capital compared to wood, making it attractive to villagers and poorer populations in less developed countries, helping to distribute wealth more equally. It is essential, of course, that extraction of bamboo is done together with reforestation so that we keep the cycle going.
Some species of bamboo can grow up to 3 feet in only 24 hours :)
So, as you can see, there are way too many advantages to using bamboo over plastic - and even wood! From a production chain free of chemical processes to a natural biodegradable waste, this resilient material can help reduce poverty by providing a remarkable socio-economic service serving as a substitute for timber trees, and at the same time help human societies adapt to climate change.
PS: Now that you know more about bamboo, why not browse our curated products made of this wonderful material?