No doubt you will have come across something made from Bamboo. It is perhaps the most versatile plant that I have come across, so versatile, it can be used to make anything from a house to a pair of socks! Whilst that fact on its own is pretty mind blowing, there are a whole host of other reasons for the continued rise in popularity of bamboo.
As a plant alone, before it is made into anything else, it has some pretty great characteristics - It is actually a member of the grass family and as such it grows fast, really fast. It is actually the fastest growing plant in the world with some types of bamboo are purported to grow up to four feet a day!
- - It produces 35% more oxygen than the same area of trees would.
- - It grows well and fast without the need for pesticides, insecticides or fertilisers.
- - It is not thirsty, requiring only rainwater to grow
- - It is good for the soil. When it is harvested it does not need to be uprooted just cut back and it will re grow keeping the soil bound together. This means it helps to prevent soil erosion and also flooding. It can also grow in areas that prove difficult to grow and harvest other crops like slopes.
- - It will also grow at altitudes from sea level to 12000 feet above.
When it comes to harvesting it,
- - It can provide the same amount of useable material for the textile industry as cotton using only 10% of the land area
- - It is 100% biodegradable
- - It only takes 3- 5 years before it can be harvested again, much quicker than trees!
- - The strength of bamboo in terms of building is comparable to steel! But with much more flexibility making it great for places prone to earthquakes or hurricanes.
But the chances are more likely that you have come across this wondering why you should buy bamboo socks, toothbrushes or towels rather than using it as a building material.
For bamboo toothbrushes the argument is fairly simple, they are biodegradable unlike their plastic counterparts (bristles will depend on the toothbrush make). They are also naturally antibacterial so could be a healthier option for your mouth too! They take a lot less energy to create than their plastic cousins, but should last you just as long with the proper care.
As far as clothing goes, bamboo is an amazing textile. Although it is as strong as steel, when made into a fabric it is super soft and feels wonderful against the skin. It is great for all skin but especially for allergy prone skin as it is so soft, and non- irritating. It is also hypoallergenic, and naturally protective against UV rays.
The socks are great if you suffer with diabetes as they help to look after your feet. Socks made of bamboo provide 60% better wick protection than cotton alone, helping feet stay dry and reducing the risk of foot complaints. On top of that, bamboo has thermo-regulating properties which help keep feet warm in winter and cool in summer. This stems from it having hollow microfibers, making it efficient at trapping heat, yet it is also breathable.
It is also odour resistant, antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-static! Quite frankly, what more could you want from a humble sock!
These properties are also great for towels - who doesn’t want a super soft towel with great moisture absorption properties that is also anti bacterial? This makes it a great choice for the gym or swimming. And as they are anti-static, it reduces further the need to use fabric conditioners, which damage your towels (see blog on Fabric conditioners).
Environmentally speaking, there are 1500 species of bamboo and it occurs naturally in every continent except Europe and Antarctica. Whilst it is also famed for being the food source for the rather lovely Panda and Red Panda the species used for clothing, building etc is not the same as the panda eats so there is no direct competition there.
The process of transforming bamboo into fabric can take an environmental toll, with some methods involving a chemical based hydrolysis- alkalization process followed by bleaching. However it is countered that bamboo still has a much lower environmental impact than pesticide laden conventional cotton and petroleum derived nylon and polyester fabrics (Scientific American).
Processing methods have come on a long way and there are now reported to be much more environmentally friendly closed loop methods being used than there were a few years ago.
The other danger would be from creating bamboo mono cultures, and land clearing for these (much like with palm oil). But currently as the growth of bamboo is so prolific and with it being able to reach great heights (35 feet in some cases) making its yield per sq ft greater than pretty much any other crop, this is potentially less of a problem than for other crops. But it is worth making sure that the bamboo you buy is from a sustainable source.
Overall Bamboo is quite a miraculous plant that could not only help us to protect the environment but also keep us all in comfortable clothes too. Where humans are concerned, I do not think there is much that we do that does not come with an impact of some kind, but it is good to see that this at least – if managed correctly, has pros that far outweigh the cons.