There are around 1,200 species of bamboo and the differences between the species can vary widely.
Pick up a bamboo plate or some bamboo cutlery and chances are you’d be holding something made from common bamboo - Bambusa vulgaris. Most paper in the West is made from tree derived cellulose. But if you reside in China, Thailand, or India you may be writing on something made from Dendrocalamus asper and Bambusa blumeana, the most common bamboo species used to make paper in those countries. The bamboo species used for clothing is called Moso bamboo. Moso bamboo is the most important bamboo in China, where it covers about 3 million hectares.
What type of bamboo product is good for the environment?
Bamboo products that are genuinely good for the environment are those that undergo the least amount of chemical processing.
Some processing is better than others. For example, products made from the protective covering found on young bamboo plants, called the sheath, are generally good. Harvesting the sheath is as easy as picking it off the ground where it usually falls. It’s then cleaned, boiled, and molded into shape.
Bamboo linen is one of the greenest textiles available. If you mechanically crush the woody parts of bamboo and then use natural enzymes to break the cell walls into a pulp, the fibers that remain can be spun into yarn. Unfortunately, this process is expensive and time-consuming.
A good compromise fabric derived from bamboo is Lyocell. It uses a closed-loop industrial process which means it recovers or decomposes all the solvents and emissions produced to create the fabric. Nothing is spilled into the environment and the fabric itself is 100% biodegradable.
Which types of bamboo products are bad for the environment?
Bamboo products that aren’t so good for the planet are those made from unsustainably harvested bamboo and products that are made from non-closed cycle chemical processes.
Conventional Viscose Rayon derived from bamboo isn’t planet-friendly. Unlike Lyocell’s closed-loop process, conventional bamboo rayon is manufactured using many chemicals and a lot of energy in a non-self-contained process.
According to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, air emissions from fabric produced conventionally can include sulfur, nitrous oxides, carbon disulfide, and hydrogen sulfide. Water emissions can include nitrates, phosphates, iron, zinc, oil, grease, and is often low in dissolved oxygen which endangers aquatic life. Effluent from the bleach plant, where bleaching chemicals containing chlorine are used, contains AOX and chlorate, which have toxic effects in the aquatic environment.
How to harvest bamboo?
A lot of preparation and thought goes into cultivating and harvesting bamboo. Harvesting takes skill and years of training. It requires knowledge of area weather patterns, an understanding of the bamboo lifecycle, and an on-sight familiarity with individual plants on the ground.
The best time to harvest a crop of bamboo depends on the species and purpose. Young bamboo shoots meant for food wouldn’t be harvested like bamboo used for construction purposes. But in general, the most recommended time to harvest bamboo is at the end of the rainy season and beginning of the dry season.
What type of bamboo do pandas eat?
Pandas like eating arrow bamboo, black bamboo, and 'water bamboo', along with about 20 other species. They favor bamboo's roots, shoots, and leaves, especially shoots. The WWF notes that since bamboo contains very little nutritional value pandas have to eat a LOT of it - 12-38kg every day - to meet their energy needs.