Yes, I do absolutely love bamboo, but there is nothing more beautiful than the interaction of entire ecosystems, ranging from a mix of plant and animal species.
I think that trees are incredible beautiful and they are incredible versatile, but name me one tree that you can use as quickly and easily as bamboo.
First of all, let me just simply begin with…wow… . Tropical bamboo is just incredible beautiful. It is huge, thick, strong with incredible leaf fall. Its leafs quickly cover forest ground, which decompose rapidly and become nutrient to other fauna and flora species (the little decomposers, hardly visible to the human eye).
Now comes my first question from the forest. Why are we transforming raw materials (lets say steel), by using tonnes of energy and resources to create a round artificial structure that fullfills the same purpose as a bamboo pole (see bank left picture). Why are we cutting and slicing trees that take likely many more years to regrow instead of using bamboo that also fullfills the same purpose (see right image). Of course, either way bamboo for longevility purposes needs treatment, but that is another story.
Bascially on these pictures here above, all you have to do is to walk in the forest with a a saw or machete, cut a bamboo pole, cut it a little more short, bind it together and here we go; a swing, buildings, stairs,… .
Here you can see a little bit better how the poles are sticked together. Okay, for the bridge you have to slice the bamboo culms into smaller stripes and parts. But even then, can you recognize how bendable bamboo is? It can even be wrapped around a finger for multiple times without breaking.
Bamboo and bendability… I think it can be difficult to imagine what it actually means, when we are used to pictures that illustrate the bamboo pole by itself. Isn’t it beautiful though? I have to commit that until this weekend I was mostly writing and reading about its bendability potential.. So I decided to sit in a river and understand it myself. I hope it will help you too 🙂
And then.. it is also fiberous. Fiberous.. Fiber.. What is actually fiber ? It is also difficult to imagine because we usually buy finished products such as textile.
Here you can see the fibers. These are those very thin “lines” that can be processed and used for textile. The process is a little bit complicated and I do not want to touch upon it. If you are interested, please read here.
Besides that, I think bamboo is simply incredible. You can use it to build houses, particular earth quake resistant once, I am yet to promote them more in regions like those in the Ring of Fire – prone to earth quakes. You can simply work with bamboos hollow structure (see picture in the rice field) but also use it to support building structures (picture in the middle).
Most of all, I think it is also incredible fun to play around with it, look at it, use it and understand how we can promote it more for its versatile purposes. Bamboo is not just a grass, to me it is a power plant; you take it from nature, cut it, treat it and use it. In an age in which time is scare! bamboo is a trully sustainable solution.
Bamboo provides a unique opportunity to meet European building and consumer demands as steel and timber alternative under the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Priorities.
Throughout my five months stay in Indonesia, I was able to receive in-depht insight into the present challanges and opportunities of bamboo for the Indonesian and international market. I looked at the potential of bamboo for the European Market as sustainable building opportunity , the current bamboo market in Indonesia, forestry and trade regulations and how it compares economically to other cash crops.
Today, I visited one of Bali’s small but beautiful Botanical Gardens and decided to move my eye and camera attention a little bit more up than the ususal straight forward. Doing so was truly amazing, because it allowed me to quickly recognize a beautiful canopy cover formed by various tree and plant species – excluding bamboo.
A little later, I entered an area in which only bamboo was growing. I quickly recognized its beautiful canopy cover, but much more dense.
As I thought about the picture I took of the bamboo canopy, I felt it was too dark as new phone screen background, but it also made me remember how important dense canopy covers are;
Forest canopies are hotspots of biological diversity, engines of global biochemical processes, and the dynamic interface between organic nature and the atmosphere.
A dense canopy cover will let little light reach the ground and will lower temperatures. The canopy protects the ground from the force of rainfall and makes wind force more moderate -> habitat conditions on the ground are shaped by the degree of canopy cover.
With the monsoon rain starting to hit my face and soaking my clothes on my way back, I wondered about the potential of bamboo on the sides of roads (besides one spot that made me really happy and feel dry!). Would it help me and the many other scooter drives to stay more or less dry? Could it be integrated into urban and peri-urban tropical environments? What benefits would bamboo have?What disadvantages would it have?
Besides the biochemical benefits of general canopy cover listed above, here are a few more benefits of trees in urban settings. These likewise apply to bamboo;
Removal of pollutants from the air, soil and water
Interception of rainfall and reduction of storm water runoff (and thus, reducing the costs related to infrastructure required to manage it)
Energy savings and reduced greenhouse gas emissions due to shade provided
Having lived in Jakarta for now 5 months and having visited Lombok and Bali, I would truly argue pro! bamboo (and trees). The picture below provides the main argument.
Pros’ for bamboo:
The truly dense canopy cover
Its related ability to provide shade and protect drivers as well as pedestrians from rain
The immense ability to store water
Its root system – very strong and beneficial in areas prone to earthquake – not as deep as tree root system ,
Con’s for bamboo:
Its “invasive” root system if not protected well
The need for proper management, i.e. removal of degrading poles
Eventually its strong leaf fall.
Conclusively, I would argue that there are various benefits for bamboo. In terms of urban and peri-urban settings, its main benefit relate to its strong leaf cover and ability to store and absorb water. Likewise, the canopy cover may be less in areas with strong underground construction and decreasing flexilbity for bamboo growth. This applies more or less to areas (i.e. cities) with less space.
Nakamura, A., Kitching, R. L., Cao, M., Creedy, T. J., Fayle, T. M., Freiberg, M., … & Malhi, Y. (2017). Forests and their canopies: achievements and horizons in canopy science. Trends in ecology & evolution, 32(6), 438-451.
To begin with, bamboo truly is a fast growing resource, which has turned it into a favorable renewable resource. However, being renewable does not imply that it is sustainable in the processed stage such as with (some) bamboo textile. Since there have been debates about bamboo being a sustainable opportunity for textiles, I decided to look into the general textile production process and evaluate, whether bamboo textile truly is as sustainable or how it would need to be to be sustainable. To start, I decided to look into the different types of fibre groups used in the textile industry.
There are three basic types of fibre groups:
• Natural fibres
• Regenerated fibres
• Synthetic fibres
“Regenerated and synthetic fibres are collectively known as man-made or manufactured fibres. Natural fibres are, as the name suggests, those which occur in nature, such as wool from sheep or cotton from cotton plants (Kozlowski, 2012a, 2012b). Regenerated fibres are made from natural polymers that are not useable in their original form but can be regenerated (i.e. reformed) to create useful fibres (Woodings, 2001). One of first regenerated fibres was rayon, also referred to as viscose or viscose rayon, regenerated from wood pulp. In contrast, synthetic fibres are made by polymerising smaller molecules into larger ones in an industrial process (McIntyre, 2004), “(Sinclair, R, 2015).
In what category does bamboo textile fall into?
Bamboo in itself is a natural material, it is famous and loved for its quick growth and versatile purposes. Bamboo is rich in cellulose, which forms the plant fibres. You can see them in the images below (the dark dotted parts in the culm crosscut). The lighter part is the lignin, the organic substance that is binding the plant fibres.
While bamboo fibres are indeed natural, the process of producing textile from bamboo turns into a man-made production process. I was able to find two bamboo textile production processes; The mechanical and chemical process.
The mechanical process
In the mechanical process, known as “thermomechanical fibre processing“, fibers are being extracted by firstly splitting the culms or by crushing them. These parts are then being cooked with alkaline phosphatase (a salt, but also natural acting enzyme) to extract the fibres (this step is also known as degumming). Once degummed, the fibres are being washed, dried and spinned for the production of textile.
Because this process involves the use of enzymes for the extraction of the fibers, it is one of the most environmentally friendly methods.
On the left image below you can see the bamboo’s natural very thin fibers, that are difficult to extract by hand. Because they keep their natural “rough” characteristics in the mechanical process, they are less favored by consumers. On the right image you can see two types of fibers. Can you guess, which one is the natural man-made fibre bundle?
The chemical process
The chemical process (regenerated fiber processing) differs largely to the mechanical one. It is used moslty for industrial purposes. It is the process by, which the smooth and soft form of bamboo textile, known as bamboo viscose, is produced (see white bamboo bulk on the image above). In this process all noncellulose constituents of the culm are removed. I would describe that as any natural surface material that “protects or covers” the fiber (viscose). “Raw cottons, for instance, contain a number of noncellulosic materials that are generally considered to be surface related and may therefore affect fiber quality , ” (Brushwood, 2003).
For the chemical process, a pulping process is used in which the cellulose fibres is seperated from bamboo pulps through chemical applications (see image above). First of all, bamboo fibres are cooked to remove any polymers (kind of like the natural glues) and organic acids. This process helps to losen the fibre structure and to have chemicals penetrate into the fibers more easily. During that process chemicals are added. ” Most common are the Kraft and sulfite pulping processes. Alternatively, alkaline (sodium/anthraquinone) or organosolv (ethanol, or acetic or formic acid) are used and followed by multiple bleaching sequences, ” (Van Dam, 2018). Once the process is completed, bamboo fibres can be filtered and spinned.
The “biofriendly” chemical process
I happened to come across one more “biofriendly” processing method in which Lyocell is produced from bamboo. Lyocell is “a cellulose fiber that is precipitated from an organic solution in which no substitution of the hydroxyl groups takes place and no chemical intermediates are formed, ” (Chen, J., 2015).
During the process of lyocell production (smooth and soft fiber), only one organic compound is used to dessolve the fibers known as N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMMO). The production process then seems to be simliar to the one that produces viscose, with the only difference that waste such as waste water seems to remain in the production system (closed loop production) and therefore does not result into environmental contamination.
Comming back to the initial question, I would argue that bamboo viscose, used most in the industry, is not sustainable, or in other terms ecologically produced. Many chemicals are being used for the production and it may be unclear, where these and particular waste waters are released to. In addition, these chemicals can also hugely negatively impact the health of manufacturers. Lyocell production, which appears to be less used by the industry, but receives a growing recognition, seems to be promoising in terms of fiber quality, and its ecological production process. The traditional, mechanical process, seems to me simliar to the production process of Lyocell, but less appealing in terms of product quality as the properties of the fibers remain rather natural.
While I have mixed feelings about the different production processes, I still rate bamboo high for textile, due to its fast growth. In comparison to other viscose that is deprived from wood, be it certified or not, I would argue that bamboo fiber provides a sustainable resource to others such as conventional timber or eucalyptus, which is known for its high rates of water consumption.
Another example is cotton. Gobally cotton covers just 2.4% of the worlds’ cultivated land, but uses less then 6% of the worlds’ pesticides (and 16% of isecticides), more than any other single major crop. On the other hand, bamboo can grow with minimum to no fertilizer and pesticide inputs. Bamboo is a pioneer plant that can grow in margenalized and degraded land, where other crops couldn’t.
For people concerned about deforestation, but not “ecological production”, I would vow for bamboo textile. However, if we were to clear land for the establishment of bamboo plantations I would out-vow bamboo textile!
How does the future for bamboo textile look like?
First of all, I would argue that we should move away from fast-fashion clothing and choose clothing that is made to last. If we buy textile made from wood viscose and throw it away after a single season, we are neglecting the fact that wood takes more then one season to grow. Bamboo on the other hand, which takes around three years to mature, provides a more sustainable opportunity. However, as with bamboo, I wish that bamboo fibers are produced while meeting sustainability criterias; sustainable sourced bamboo (minimal pesticide and water control during cultivation) and bamboo sourced from sustainable managed forests, bamboo produced in environmentally/people friendly conditions.
The next post will be about how the different bamboo fiber processing methods effect the quality of bamboos’ unique features “bacteria resistancy, water absorbtion etc”. Stay tuned 🙂
Bajpai, P. (2018). Biermann’s Handbook of Pulp and Paper: Volume 2: Paper and Board Making. Elsevier.
Chen, J. (2015). Synthetic textile fibers: regenerated cellulose fibers. In Textiles and Fashion (pp. 79-95). Woodhead Publishing.
Brushwood, D. E. (2003). Noncellulosic constituents on raw cotton and their relationship to fiber physical properties. Textile research journal, 73(10), 912-916.
Nayak, L., & Mishra, S. P. (2016). Prospect of bamboo as a renewable textile fiber, historical overview, labeling, controversies and regulation. Fashion and Textiles, 3(1), 2.
van Dam, J. E., Elbersen, H. W., & Montaño, C. M. D. (2018). 1Wageningen Food and Biobased Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands. Perennial Grasses for Bioenergy and Bioproducts: Production, Uses, Sustainability and Markets for Giant Reed, Miscanthus, Switchgrass, Reed Canary Grass and Bamboo, 175.
Sinclair, R. (2015). Understanding Textile Fibres and Their Properties: What is a Textile Fibre?. In Textiles and fashion (pp. 3-27). Woodhead Publishing.