Bamboo – The Eco Friendly Alternative To Plastic?
As many of you may know, single use plastic is one of the world’s worst contributors to waste. As a population, we’re currently producing nearly 300 million tons of plastic, a lot of which ends up in rivers, hedgerows and landfill. Although plastic is a useful material and is used to create lots of important products for our everyday lives, an estimated 50% of plastic is used once and thrown away. Not only is this extremely wasteful, sadly more than 8 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year, harming marine life. According to the Ocean Conservancy, plastic has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtles species.
As a result of these shocking facts, many people are looking for alternatives to plastic products, in particular single-use ones. Lots of us have already made the switch to reusable containers, bags and bottles. Even supermarkets and other brands are actively looking to reduce their production of plastic packaging. It’s clear from the statistics that we cannot keep producing the amount of plastic we’re currently churning out into the world. So what alternative materials are out there? Could bamboo be the sustainable option?
What is Bamboo?
Despite having strong wood like tendencies, bamboo is actually a type of grass, with a hollow stem. It is considered one of the fastest growing plants on the planet, and flourishes in more humid climates, such as China and Japan. Unlike trees, and much like grass, once it’s cut it continues to grow. It’s strength and fast growth have made it a particularly popular material for the construction industry, from bamboo homes to bridges.
What’s so great about bamboo?
Bamboo has many great qualities, from its fast growth rate to its naturally antibacterial properties. Bamboo has been used for centuries, and its popularity is only continuing to grow, as manufacturers look for more eco-friendly materials to replace plastics and other unsustainable materials . Bamboo is cheap to grow, is easily and readily available and is sometimes referred to as ‘green steel’ for its astounding strength. Many species of bamboo grown in the right conditions can reach maturity in a couple of months, and there is also little need to use pesticides or fertilisers.
Can’t you just use wood?
So, you may be wondering, isn’t using wood just the same? Unfortunately not. To begin with, most trees take years or even decades to grow to the maturity needed to utilise the wood from them. In addition, bamboo typically uses less water than trees and releases 35% more oxygen into the atmosphere, than the equivalent volume of trees. Bamboo is also better for the soil, as after harvesting, the roots can remain in place to help retain nutrients for the next crop. Another positive aspect of bamboo is that it can be harvested without killing the plant, whereas tree roots have to be removed and burnt to provide fertiliser, then replanted to begin the cycle again.
Why choose bamboo over plastic?
Unlike plastic, bamboo is fully biodegradable and compostable. It grows naturally and isn’t produced using toxic chemicals, like plastic is. It isn’t a danger to marine life and doesn’t litter our oceans. Choosing bamboo over plastic is a positive, planet conscious choice.
There are many plastic objects around the home that can easily be replaced with bamboo alternatives. Bamboo toothbrushes can be used instead of plastic ones. Dish brushes can be replaced with bamboo alternatives. Disposable plastic cutlery can be swapped out for their bamboo counterparts. We can even use bamboo plates and bowls instead of plastic ones.
As well as being a favoured material in construction and furniture manufacturing, bamboo is also becoming increasingly popular as a material for the cosmetics industry. From eyeshadow palette cases to mascara tubes and pressed powder containers, Zao Makeup is just one of the growing number of brands using bamboo packaging for their cosmetic products.
Bamboo sounds great, are there any cons to using it?
As mentioned previously, bamboo is predominantly grown in Asian countries, so its carbon footprint is quite large when being shipped over to the US and Europe. However, China is also one of the largest producers of plastics in the world, so this carbon footprint is sometimes hard to avoid when they produce so many of the world’s materials. It is of course a no-brainer when choosing between either plastic or bamboo shipped from China though, as ultimately bamboo biodegrades, which of course plastic does not. Also, as the demand for bamboo products is rising in the UK, we’re starting to see more bamboo nurseries springing up. Hopefully this will continue to grow (excuse the pun!) so we can reduce our bamboo carbon footprint.
There are also some issues with companies who are “greenwashing” and stocking bamboo products. Some bamboo products are in fact made from bamboo powder, cornstarch and resin, which is a chemically formed plastic that also contains formaldehyde. To avoid accidentally buying these products when you’re shopping for bamboo items, it’s important to check that they’re 100% natural, biodegradable and responsibly sourced.
Ok, I’m ready to use bamboo products, where can I start?
If you’re looking to switch out some plastic products for more eco-friendly alternatives, then bamboo is certainly a viable alternative material to go for. I’ve listed a few eco swaps below to help switch out everyday items in your home or beauty routine.
Easy swaps to make in the bathroom are toothbrushes and cotton buds, they are low cost but have a big impact on the environment. UK based brand, EcoAlyn stock biodegradable bamboo organic cotton buds and charcoal toothbrushes for both adults and children. They also have kitchen essentials – bamboo cutlery and toast tongs.
Who Gives A Crap creates toilet paper made from 100% forest friendly bamboo. Most toilet paper is made from virgin trees, resulting in a vast amount of water and energy usage, so making this simple eco friendly swap is a great way to help the planet.
And for the kitchen, Bambaw stock a dish brush and scraper set so you can swap out your non-recyclable plastic dish brush for a biodegradable version.
Make the change today and switch to more sustainable earth-loving bamboo products. We can all make small changes that work towards a more positive future for our planet. Have you tried any bamboo products? What did you think?