Bamboo is a material that one does not generally think twice about. Sure, it has been used in some trendy home decor, and pandas like to eat it, but that’s where it ends, right? Maybe so in the Western world. I had previously been of the opinion that these tall green rods were nothing special. However, on my travels through South America, I have come to realize just how valuable and unique this plant truly is – especially from a sustainability standpoint! I noticed that the people living near and within the Amazon rainforest construct entire houses and lodges out of this strong, durable, eco-friendly material. When this realization hit me, I started doing more research into bamboo and its countless benefits, here in South America and across the globe.
Bamboo is a miracle plant for many countries, with over 1/6th of the world’s population living in bamboo houses. There are over 1000 species of bamboo, and most grow like weeds reaching full maturity between 3-5 years. After it has reached maturity, bamboo can be harvested again every following year for the rest of its lifetime, making it an affordable and renewable resource. Moreover, it is an incredibly resilient plant, requiring only very few nutrients and water, and, due to its antibacterial properties, harvesters can forgo the use of harmful pesticides in its farming. Impressively, bamboo has a 35% greater oxygen-production capacity than the same stand of trees, making it a sustainability hero on all counts! Last but not least, it is more environmentally-friendly to harvest bamboo than not, as an over-mature bamboo forest can act as a carbon source once it reaches the decomposition stage. As such, it is an economic and environmental asset to harvest and make use of the bountiful bamboo before it reaches this point – a hero indeed!
Incredibly diverse projects have been inspired by the plant’s positive properties: from biodegradable utensils, to sturdy furniture, to breathable clothing, with the most popular being its use as a durable and renewable housing material. A recent UNESCO report indicated that 70 hectares of bamboo can produce 1000 houses, sparing the traditional hardwood trees from being cut down in our ever-diminishing forests. Countries as removed as Norway have been turning to the strength and affordability of bamboo as scaffolding for “green walls:” walls covered in plants, which serve to increase CO2 uptake, and which effectively transform a concrete jungle into a legitimate one. On another continent, the drought-resistant and fast-growing nature of bamboo has increased its use as a charcoal source in African countries where firewood is hard to come by. Moreover, the plant has a solid root network, which prevents soil erosion, and draws water up closer to the ground surface – another advantage for regions where water is a scarcity. In Japan, the antibacterial properties of bamboo have warranted its use as a food preservative for centuries. Moving closer to home, Canadian activewear line, Lululemon, uses the inherent strength and antibacterial properties of the plant to develop durable and odour-resistant workout clothing.
The countless benefits of bamboo encompass a wide array of alternatives for non-eco-friendly industries. Turning to a fast-growing, affordable renewable resource such as bamboo would help limit deforestation of hardwood trees, increase water conservation, prevent soil erosion, and increase CO2 uptake. Moreover, the frequent harvesting of bamboo would create jobs and generate cash employment in many developing countries. A bountiful blessing, indeed!
- On biomimicry and Norway’s green walls: http://biomimicrykth.blogspot.com/
- On biodegradable cutlery in India: https://www.thebetterindia.com/51451/pappco-greenware-replace-plastic-disposables/
- On bamboos benefits and its use as charcoal in Africa: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/in-africas-vanishing-forests-the-benefits-of-bamboo/
- On bamboo benefits and facts: https://econation.co.nz/bamboo/