While reading an article about how bamboo is being used in India, I saw many people referring to bamboo as “green gold,” and it piqued my curiosity.
Why is bamboo called green gold? Bamboo is called green gold because it is becoming increasingly more valuable in the global economy. Along with the variety of uses it can be put to, it is highly renewable, sustainable, and easy to grow.
Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing and versatile up-and-coming renewable resources. As people, businesses, and nations start to look for more eco-friendly options, they are turning to bamboo, and it is developing a reputation for being a lucrative crop.
To fully understand why bamboo is called green gold, you must first understand what bamboo is, what it can be used for and why it is becoming the go-to material for many products.
What is bamboo?
Although bamboo is often used as a substitute for wood in the production of many products, it is not a tree. Bamboo is technically a grass, and it grows in a very similar manner to the grass that grows on our lawns. It uses a system of connected roots so that if one of the pieces is cut down, it will continue to produce more shoots.
One of the most amazing features of bamboo is the speed with which it grows. It is the fastest-growing plant in the world. It can grow approximately 35 inches per day, and it can reach heights well over 100 feet.
Walking through a bamboo forest is a beautiful ethereal experience as you are surrounded by tall thin culms with a leafy canopy overhead, and everything feels lush and green.
There are over 1,000 species of bamboo with many growing well across a variety of climates, but the majority of bamboo grows in tropical and subtropical regions.
What is bamboo used for?
Bamboo, once known as the poor man’s timber, is now being referred to as green gold because of the increasing global demand for it. This is because innovative methods of processing bamboo are being used to create timber-like building materials.
But construction is not the only area where bamboo shines. Bamboo can be made into furniture, cooking utensils, cutlery, plates, bowls, activated charcoal, clothes and other fabric materials, yarns, and even biofuel.
Not only that but bamboo shoots are a healthy and hearty addition to any meal. Does it beg the question is there anything bamboo can’t do?
Bamboo in construction
Bamboo is great for use in construction. It is very similar to wood, and it has more tensile strength than steel. Those not used to using bamboo in construction might be a little wary of using the fragile-looking culms, but bamboo is actually very strong.
In North America, the most common use of bamboo is in flooring. Bamboo flooring has become very popular due to its eco-friendliness.
However, in Asian countries, bamboo is widely used in building all sorts of structures including houses. These homes are mostly simple structures, but bamboo’s potential far exceeds them. For a look at the kind of structures that can be made out of bamboo, check out this gallery from TED.com that showcases some amazing buildings and bridges built from bamboo.
Bamboo as cloth or yarn
Bamboo can make cloth and yarn that is incredibly soft. Most bamboo cloth is made using a chemical process that involves turning bamboo fibers into regenerated cellulose fiber.
A mechanical process that is more environmentally friendly can also be used to turn bamboo into fiber. The bamboo cloth made with the mechanical process is created by crushing the leaves and inner pith of the bamboo, applying an enzyme, and then combing out the natural fibers of the bamboo which is then spun into a yarn that can then be turned into cloth.
The bamboo cloth can be used to make anything from curtains and sheets to t-shirts and sweaters.
Bamboo as biofuel
All parts of the bamboo plant including the culms, leaves, and stems can be processed in such a way that it forms charcoal briquets. These briquets can be used as a kind of biofuel. Recently, Ghana has started using Bamboo charcoal technology as a way of providing energy across their country.
In addition, more research is being done on using bamboo and other non-food sources of biofuel to create ethanol that can fuel cars. It is already possible to turn bamboo into ethanol, but the process is cost-prohibitive.
Although discoveries are being made and solutions are being searched for to make bamboo ethanol more feasible.
Why is bamboo so popular?
Beyond the fact that bamboo is a strong versatile material, it is becoming more and more popular because of the positive impact bamboo has on the environment and because bamboo is easy and inexpensive to grow.
Bamboo is inexpensive
Because bamboo grows easily in a wide variety of environments, it tends to be comparatively inexpensive. It doesn’t require a lot of resources, chemicals or fertilizers to grow.
Bamboo is naturally resistant to insects and fungus, so it does not need to be treated with anything. Essentially bamboo farmers just need to give it land and let it grow. In fact, bamboo grows so easily that one of the main concerns of bamboo farmers is that the bamboo doesn’t spread too far.
After the first 3 to 4 years, the roots of the bamboo become established and the bamboo doesn’t even need to be watered as much as in the beginning.
This means that organic sources of bamboo are easy to find, and that bamboo is relatively inexpensive. It doesn’t take a lot of resources to grow and doesn’t pollute the land with pesticide runoffs.
Bamboo is a very sustainable resource. After 5 to 7 years a bamboo plant reaches its full maturity, and the culms (or canes) can be harvested, which allows the small culms that pop up around it to grow more rapidly.
Every year a bamboo farmer can harvest 25% or more of his or her crop without having to replant at all. This is the definition of sustainable. Plant once and harvest for decades.
Compare this to trees. Trees are also a renewable resource, but our current harvesting practices are not focused on sustainability. A pine tree takes about 30 years before it is ready for harvesting, while an oak tree can take up to 80 years. When a tree is cut down, a new tree must be planted to replace it.
Most products made from bamboo have a negative carbon footprint. A negative carbon footprint is a good thing. This means that the bamboo plant captures more carbon than the amount of carbon it takes to make the product.
This is because bamboo captures a lot of CO2. In fact, one hectare of bamboo captures 1,000 tons of CO2. That same hectare of bamboo produces 20 cubic meters or 66 cubic feet of building material.
It only takes about 500 tons of CO2 to produce those 20 cubic meters of building material including production and transportation costs.
For countries and companies pledging to reduce their carbon footprint, the use of bamboo to create high-quality products is essential.
An estimated 18 million acres of land are lost to deforestation every year. Deforestation refers to the permanent destruction of the forest, and it is a huge problem in the modern world.
Deforestation is one of the leading causes of global warming and it causes land erosion, and it can lead to a decrease in water quality in certain areas. Not to mention, deforestation destroys the home of thousands of animals.
Although bamboo is not a tree, it is being considered as an ideal method for restoring the areas impacted by deforestation or land degradation both because it is capable of growing on decimated land and because of the environmental benefits it offers.
According to the World Resource Institute over 2 billion hectares of land that have been impacted by deforestation or degraded by other human activity is suitable for restoration.
These lands can be rapidly restored by the use of bamboo, and these areas would have a new renewable, natural resource to export.
Green gold around the world
Countries around the world are beginning to see the financial and environmental opportunities bamboo offers as more information about bamboo is being shared and more consumers are looking for bamboo products.
India has been making headlines with its new policies concerning the ‘green gold’. It all started with India reclassifying bamboo.
In 1927, the Indian Forest Act classified bamboo as a tree and so it was protected from harvesting under this act. However, as we know, bamboo is not a tree, and it is easy to harvest it in a sustainable manner. It is no longer classified as a tree, and Indians are rejoicing over their new ability to harvest bamboo for its building capabilities as well as is used in food.
In 2018, India announced a National Bamboo Mission and budgeted a significant amount of money towards the bamboo sector holistically. The mission hopes to increase bamboo production in India as well as strengthen the marketing of bamboo-made products.
China is one of the countries leading the way in using bamboo to restore decimated land and boost the economy of poverty-stricken areas. It is finding that bamboo plantations are helping prevent water runoff, offset the countries carbon footprint, and provide an economically depressed region a financial opportunity.
The two main bamboo initiatives in China started in Chishui and Anji, and both areas experienced an economic upturn not only by selling bamboo but also by offering tourist opportunities to walk through the beautiful bamboo forests.
In 2001, Ghana started the National Forest Plantation Development Program which aims to restore forests in degraded landscapes in Ghana. This program plans to add 50,000 hectares of bamboo to the country by 2040.
This amount of bamboo could capture 50 million tons of carbon, provide jobs and financial opportunities for many people, and introduce a new source of food to the diet of Ghanaians.
Ghana has been successful at using bamboo to restore areas degraded by mining operations in particular because bamboo can grow on steep slopes and without too much encouragement.
India, China, and Ghana are not the only countries using bamboo to restore degraded or deforested land. Similar initiatives are being used in Tanzania, South Africa, Nepal, Thailand, and Columbia.