We’ve all heard now to buy our bamboo toothbrush and bamboo socks and bamboo flooring. But what is bamboo, is it really sustainable (it has to fly in from across the world) and does it harm pandas? And if so, what are the more local alternatives? Let’s find out!
Bamboo is basically the world’s fastest-growing grass. It grows so fast that you can literally see it growing in front you, if you sat there for a few hours. Whereas forest trees take 30 to 40 years to reach maturity (before being chopped down along with native wildlife losing their homes), bamboo can he harvested in a year. FSC-papers and the like are usually from fast-growing plantations that never get old enough to support wildlife, and usually are treated with pesticides. Plus sometimes old-growth forests are knocked down to plant them.
So you can see the appeal of bamboo. Presently it’s not grown here (it would be an invasive plant and grows quickly, so would need enclosed spaces). For now, bamboo is shipped or air-freighted from Asia. But a lot is processed with chemicals to make rayon, and although industrial bamboo seems good, we have to be careful as if it becomes too popular, we create ‘monocultures’ where one species dominates at the expense of other crops, to make profit. This has happened with palm oil plantations and flammable eucalyptus trees to make ‘biodegradable packaging’ (some areas of Spain and Portugal have banned new plantations, due to wildfires).
Industrial (moso) bamboo is not the same as the fresh shoots eaten by pandas. But obviously it’s important to keep their plantations. It’s ironic, but although China doesn’t have the best record for animal welfare, they tend to protect their pandas well. So always look for ‘certified organic’ bamboo, if bought. So in summary, bamboo is fine is sustainably harvested in moderation – until we start growing our own?
Is there a local alternative? Some would say Tencel. This is a wood fibre grown in Europe. But as mentioned above, like eucalyptus trees, the wood is flammable and this has led to wildfires, which is why many people are concerned if it got too popular. As industry would then go mad and start planting more trees than is good for nature and wildlife. As the answer with everything – simple living and buying less!