Last month, on a trip in Vietnam, I attended a talk outside of Ho Chi Minh City about the amazing sustainable material of bamboo. I should caveat that the talk was very “sales-y” but I was genuinely left impressed at how versatile bamboo could be.
They had water bottles, scarves, cleaning cloths, toothbrushes, towels, the list goes on..! It was incredible to see some of the benefits of the material: for example, we would often throw away a cleaning cloth or kitchen sponge when it eventually becomes stained or discoloured by a strong coloured food or drink - coffee, red wine, turmeric etc. However, with bamboo, the lady carried out several demonstrations where the sponge would be easily cleaned in water, leaving no stain at all.
She also showed us how quickly a towel tries when compared to a cotton one which we would ordinarily use as a bath towel. It really was quite incredible.
Leaving the talk, I was keen to learn more. Is bamboo the material of the future? Why aren’t we already using it given how durable it is? It would be so much more sustainable for several things, but what’s the catch…? So here you have it summarised for you - the good, the bad and the ugly:
- Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth, so doesn’t need any chemicals or pesticides to grow healthily
- Bamboo fibres are durable and un-porous, meaning we can be more sustainable and reduce our throwaway culture when it comes to textiles
- Bamboo viscose (whilst not ideal) is still more sustainable than silk, wool and non-organic cotton
- Bamboo is great for non-clothing items including toothbrushes, coffee cups, creative building design and even a “natural” scaffolding in the east!
- The process to turn bamboo into bamboo fibres (for textiles) mostly requires a cocktail of chemicals to first convert it into a thick liquid, and then spin it in a chemical bath where it solidifies into a fibre (note: bamboo can be crushed and formed mechanically but this is slow, expensive and labour intensive).
- Growing demand for bamboo is increasingly leading to farmers in China growing it as a monocrop, and also clearing large areas of forest and farmland to grow it. This reduces biodiversity and allows natural pests to start to accumulate. Farmers then turn to pesticides, which should never be needed to grow bamboo sustainably
- According to GOTS, almost all of the bamboo fibre used in mainstream textile production isn’t natural bamboo but a viscose that is derived from the plant.
- Now that bamboo is growing in popularity, swathes of land in China is being used to plant it. It’s devastating that sometimes it’s the very same land where bamboo was destroyed to make way for other crops - and in the process, the panda population plummeted (and is unlikely to ever get back up to the population they had)