Archive for May 2007 | Monthly archive page
(The following story was written by me in the spring of 2007, and appeared in a number of local publications.)
Suddenly it seems like everybody’s talking about sustainability and renewable resources. And well they should. After 30 years of hot air about global warming and peak oil, the environment is finally talking a lead role in the American political drama. Solar energy is radiating across California and the nation, organic produce is spreading like pollen in the spring, and alternatives to disappearing hardwood and pesticide-rich cotton are drawing more interest than ever.
One remarkable resource that’s recently come out of the woodwork and into the spotlight is bamboo. A paragon of sustainability, bamboo is finding its way into construction, flooring, clothing, towels and linens. And unlike so many progressive alternatives, bamboo is absolutely affordable. It doesn’t require another 20 years of research or legislation, and it doesn’t demand a major initial investment to be recouped a decade from now. Bamboo is economically viable today.
Words like renewable and sustainable get thrown around a lot, and they’re likely to cause some misunderstanding. Even petroleum is a renewable resource; it just might take a few hundred thousand years to replenish itself. Redwood trees renew themselves much faster, in just a few centuries. As long as we don’t harvest them any faster than they grow, they could be considered sustainable. Further up on the scale, we have annual crops like hemp, which can grow up to 12 feet in a single season, with minimal crop rotation and little or no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Easily maintained and renewed each year: that’s sustainable.
Then there’s bamboo. A division of the grass family, with as many as 2000 varieties, bamboo flourishes in virtually every climate. It is a notoriously vigorous grower; some varieties grow as much as 3 feet a day in the growing season — although a few inches a day is more typical. Bamboo reaches maturity within five years, and, as a grass, requires no replanting. Anyone who’s ever tried removing unwanted bamboo knows this characteristic all too well. When bamboo is cut down, it just comes right back, and stronger. If there’s a more readily renewable resource out there, I’d like to know about it.
The vast majority of commercial bamboo comes from China, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia. Indeed, they’ve been using the plant in that part of the world for both food and shelter for millennia. (They’ve even identified bamboo as having magical and mythical properties.) Countless varieties also thrive throughout Africa and the Americas, even in temperate and hardy climates.
Bamboo’s natural vigor makes it sustainable, plentiful, and inexpensive. And its physical strength and diversity translate directly into its versatility as a natural resource. In addition to all of its traditional uses for things like chopsticks and furniture, bamboo today is pressed and laminated as a superior lumber alternative. Stronger even than oak or maple, bamboo has become the first choice in flooring. And in the past couple years, its price has come to rival that of traditional hardwood. This pressed bamboo is also becoming wildly popular for cutting boards and kitchenware because of the way it resists scratching and repels moisture.
Bamboo clothing and fabrics, however, may hold the plant’s greatest promise. Until you’ve seen it yourself, the touch of bamboo is hard to imagine, and difficult to believe. Beat into a pulp and spun into thread, bamboo fiber yields an amazingly soft, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial material. Remarkably soft and absorbent bamboo towels are simply exquisite. And, unlike conventional cotton, bamboo grows prolifically without fertilizers, pesticides or defoliants.
In the quest for a global panacea, bamboo might not necessarily save the planet; but in terms of renewability and sustainability, it’s certainly one of the most promising natural resources we have. And not just promising — bamboo is available today, and affordable. No longer must one pay a premium to support a cause or to make an environmental statement. At last, you can do what’s right for the earth, what’s right for yourself, and what’s right for your budget.
Bamboo fabric is a radical new material that promises to revolutionize the clothing and textile industry. For cost, comfort and ecology, bamboo fiber clothing has no equal.But how do they do it?
Basically, the bamboo stalks are crushed and pulped, and the plant cellulose is extracted and converted into “rayon.” But while traditional viscose rayon relies on caustic chemicals to convert man-made celluose, bamboo rayon employs a new eco-friendly method that preserves the natural characteristics of the bamboo (celluose) without the use of toxic chemicals.
The organic solvent amine oxide (N-methylmorpholine-N-oxide) has been in use since the 1990s for converting raw wood fiber into useful textiles. Bamboo’s abundance and renewability make it an ideal candidate for this process, and the non-toxic process is entirely in line with the ecological philosophy behind bamboo.
The end result is a sumptuously soft eco-fiber fashioned from organically grown bamboo, not just comfortable, but also hypoallergenic, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial.Why Bamboo Fiber Clothing?
Conventional cotton is known to be one of the most pesticide intensive crops on the planet, as it is susceptible to a number of pests (particularly when grown in monoculture). And the defoliants used to strip cotton of its leaves before harvesting are some of the deadliest man-made chemicals available. (see Agent Orange )
Other synthetic fibers like nylon, polyester and traditional rayon are derived from petroleum, and so, of course, are those pesky fertilizers, pesticides and defoliants. Freeing ourselves from these industrial fibers represents one more step towards freeing ourselves from fossil fuel dependency.
Bamboo, hemp, and organic cotton all offer excellent alternatives to the highly-toxic conventional textiles. And the future of sustainable agriculture depends not on a single panacea, but on a healthy diversity of alternatives.
For the widest variety of bamboo clothing, bamboo towels and bamboo bedding you’ll ever find under one roof, please visit Bambu Batu, in person or online. In business since 2007, no other bamboo store can touch us for quality, consistency or experience.
To learn more, be sure to check out our comprehensive article on What’s so great about bamboo.
A new variety of native North American bamboo was discovered this year (March ’07) by botanists in North Carolina. Hill Cane is the third known variety of bamboo indigenous to the continental United States. Arundinaria appalachiana, as it’s known to botanists, differs from Switch Cane and River Cane, also native to the American southeast, in that it drops its leaves in the winter.