Bamboo can be used to make the same products as both wood and cotton. What one other crop is as versatile? Growing and harvesting bamboo also has a less serious environmental impact that either wood or cotton, making it a key asset in the drive for sustainability.
Trees are used both for wood and paper. It takes about 40 years for a tree to grow to a height suitable for harvesting. Responsible logging requires immediately planting new trees. The consequences of deforestation without replacement include soil erosion and water pollution from the resulting runoff. Bamboo is a grass that grows from a rhizome. It grows to its full height in a single growing season and matures for harvest in three years. Cutting it down does not kill it. The rhizome simply puts up more shoots in the next growing season.
Cotton requires a lot of water and intensive application of fertilizer and pesticides. It must be planted every year. Bamboo thrives with minimal human intervention. In fact, apart from wherever it is grown deliberately, it can be an invasive weed. It does not require much if any irrigation, pesticides, or fertilizer—which, by the way, is a petrochemical that contributed to our dependence on foreign oil.
Bamboo is stronger than the strongest hardwood. In Hong Kong, all construction scaffolding is made of bamboo. It can be used both for structural use and to make fine furniture, cabinetry, and all kinds of tools. Wood is a poor material for cutting boards, because it harbors bacteria. Bamboo, on the other hand, is inherently anti microbial.
Fabric from bamboo is much more recent than other uses (many of which date back to antiquity). It is tough enough to use for outdoor rugs, yet also luxuriously soft. Bamboo tee shirts, towels, sheets, etc. are becoming increasingly popular.
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