Is bamboo all it’s cracked up to be?

By Lorrin Windahl.

It’s true that bamboo is a highly sustainable material which has increased in popularity recently for this very reason. It is seen as a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic, metal and even timber. But is it as green as everyone claims? Well it is, but a dramatic increase in demand has had some negative effects on its eco-credentials.

The great thing about bamboo is that it grows quickly. In fact it can be harvested in just 3-4 years after planting from seed. And it’s root system is so large that it doesn’t need replanting but just continues to grow. And it grows very densely so you can have a fairly large crop on a comparatively small plot. It is also naturally pest resistant and helps to rebuild eroded soil. What’s not to like?

Well, the negative impacts are not so much to do with the product itself but the way it is being produced in order to meet increased demand. One major issue with this increase is that farmers who have traditionally been growing bamboo alongside other crops are now only growing bamboo. This shift to a mono-crop culture reduces biodiversity which can degrade the soil ecology and lead to an increase in pests and therefore a need to start using pesticides. And even without a pest problem some farmers are using pesticides simply to increase their yield by encouraging shoot growth. Land is also being cleared so that more bamboo can be grown which has had a large impact on local wildlife.

Currently the majority of bamboo is produced in China due to the high labour costs in other parts of the world. Therefore, most bamboo products have to be shipped to their final destination increasing the amount of environmental pollutants produced. But, if you are comparing this to plastic or metal products then these are also largely produced in China as well.

So do these negative impacts outweigh the positive? Well, no but you do need to be a little careful in your selection. Whether you are a designer specifying the material or a consumer purchasing the product, if you are keen to ensure you are buying a sustainable product it’s best to check that the manufacturer and supplier share the same ethos as yourself and are not just looking to unscrupulously cash in on the sustainability wave.

Regardless of whether you think bamboo is still the sustainable saviour, it can now be found in many different shapes and forms. I think it is great to see as it brings a warmth and tactility to product’s that plastic and metal just cannot replicate.

Calfee bamboo bike frames.

Beacon Alley Skateboard’s bamboo deck.

Groovemade laser etched bamboo iPhone covers.

Handmade bamboo framed glasses by Takemoto.

The Nest Lamp by Edward Linacre.

Woven Bamboo Chair by Tejo Remy and René Veenhuizen.

 

References:
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/aug/13/bamboo.fabric
http://www.dovetailinc.org/report_pdfs/2014/dovetailbamboo0314.pdf
http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/home-diy/flooring/bamboo-floors-really-green2.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monocropping
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo_textiles

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