As you might already know, bamboo is quickly making its way into the mainstream in products and building materials that have long been the mainstay of plastics and metals. Not only is it very environmentally friendly, it’s also amazingly strong, durable and stylish. It’s a perfect natural material for your camping products while also helping reduce your carbon footprint.
Today we’re taking a look at what exactly this amazing bamboo is and why it’s becoming one of the most impactful materials entering various markets in Australia. And with Boho Road Trip now also offering a wide range of bamboo products, you'll see why this material has become perfect for camping products.
Crazy Interesting Facts About Bamboo
The bamboo plant is a member of the grass family and though most commercial bamboo comes from China, India and Southeast Asia, it’s actually globally distributed, with natural abundance across the world’s tropics and sub-tropics throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. There are over 1,600 species across that distribution, and it also grows across a huge range of climates, from the hot, humid tropics to cold mountain ranges, but always requiring minimal water to flourish.
It’s one of the fastest growing plants on Earth, with some species growing up to 35m in height and growing up to an amazing 40cm per day – some species have been known to grow almost 3 times that in one day in ideal conditions!
What Makes it So Sustainable?
Bamboo can grow to maturity in as little as 3 years, and unlike trees, it can actually be harvested before it even reaches maturity. Additionally, it can be harvested for full wood style products in as little as 3 years, making it an incredibly prolific and renewable as it can quickly supply more biomass than both natural and planted tree forests.
Because of this rapid growth, bamboo is unmatched in its ability to actually remove carbon dioxide from the environment. Bamboo forests act like giant carbon sinks by sequestering up to four times more carbon dioxide and releasing 35% more oxygen than a similar sized forest of hardwood trees. Through its fast growth it accumulates carbon very quickly, and it has an extensive root system that survives harvesting.
The bamboo can then be selectively harvested every year, without damage to the actual root system, keeping that carbon safely underground, and be used to make an ever-widening range of durable products – PLUS those products have that carbon locked in for the duration of the product’s lifecycle – and then at he end of its life, it is easily biodegradable.
Planting bamboo and buying bamboo products as an alternative to most other materials is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Bamboo Compared With Other Materials
Bamboo is a more sustainable option as we've covered above, but those aren't the only reasons. Using bamboo products can obviate the release of carbon in the manufacture or processing of other materials, such as steel, aluminium and even concrete. These benefits have even been proven to give bamboo a low or even negative carbon footprint over the course of their lifecycle. This is also better than hardwoods certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Plastic, which barely even rates a mention in an article about sustainable products, takes up to 1,000 years to decompose, and destroys ecosystems in the process, while bamboo can be composted in as little as 3-6 months.
Steel processing and recycling has made leaps and bounds with respect to negative externalities, such as air emissions, wastewater contaminants and various wastes. In best practice, these can almost all now be captured and recycled into energy for further production, electricity storage and the CO2 even cleaned for carbonation for drinks. But there are still burn offs of waste and these are obviously not perfectly closed systems, and additionally, there are limitations to the collection and recyclability over a number of lifecycles. So bamboo is still a superior product when the same application exists.
What Can We Replace with Bamboo?
Bamboo is obviously not new. In fact, it’s been used for thousands of years by a large number of cultures around the world - it's just that today’s innovative manufacturing technology has seen a huge increase in the applications for it. Many items that are made from plastic can simply be replaced with a bamboo version. Cutlery, plates, bowls, cups, and cooking utensils, toothbrushes, chopping boards, washboards, even casings for electrical appliances such as computer mouses, are all now commonly replaced with a bamboo substitute.
We can use bamboo as an alternative to steel, aluminium, hardwood and cement as well. Amazingly, bamboo’s tensile strength, which is the resistance offered to breaking or splitting under tension, is greater than steel’s – 28,000 pounds PSI compared with 23,000 pounds psi. So flooring, benchtops, framing and scaffolding, like you may have seen in many Asian countries (though looking quite precarious in its set up and lack of any other safety gear on the workers!) is easily replaced, along with all or parts of tables, chairs and fencing.
Different technologies have been developed recently that facilitate bamboo fibre to be applied in a wide range of textiles and fabrics for fashion and bedding. Bamboo yields 50 times as much fibre per acre as cotton, so it's amazingly productive, but there’s a very important distinction here that needs to be made.
There are two different manufacturing processes which are currently used to make textiles from bamboo - chemical processing and mechanical processing. The big claims of natural antifungal and antibacterial properties, good moisture absorption, heat regulation, ultraviolet protection, and excellent anti-static properties are really only true for the mechanically processed yarns and fabrics. It’s an impressive feat for one product to have all these qualities!
But there’s a catch – this method of processing comes with a higher cost than the chemical extraction method, so modern bamboo clothing, like almost all the lovely looking boho dresses on sites across the web, is almost always now made from chemically processed bamboo. This product is called viscose rayon. This is made by dissolving the cellulose in the bamboo, and then extruding it to form fibres, but in the process removing the amazing natural benefits of bamboo, basically downgrading its quality to any other type of rayon.
Further, there is a lot of evidence that the chemicals used in this treatment are very bad for the environment and that the chemicals are still within the final product itself. We’ve written a little bit about this previously, which also highlights a matching lack of ethics in the manufacturing processes too.
You can see our article on this here: Rayon, Polyester and Cotton Fabrics for the Boho Camper
Only when the material for a product such as pillows, sheets or other bedding, for example, is mechanically extracted can it legally be claimed to be Made From Bamboo, and so justifiably make the claims of being hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial. Bamboo therefore has a fitting place in the outdoors world, where the properties of mould and bacteria fighting are well needed.
When a product is made from rayon, however, it essentially lacks these qualities.Further, it potentially has poisonous chemicals still embedded, and almost certainly has damaged the environment and the workers’ health in its manufacture. We don't offer rayon products for these reasons. Our selections are just as awesome but currently we’re mostly sticking with cotton and wool!
In recent years, bamboo has become an important raw material for the pulp and paper industry due to the shortage of wood resources. Bamboo paper is superior to wood derived paper, as it has a high tear index, similar to or better than that of wood paper, but its brightness and optical properties remain stable, while those of wood-derived paper may deteriorate over time.
Bamboo can also be pulped with less energy and chemical requirement than wood, so it’s more environmentally friendly. This leads to innovations such as reusable bamboo paper towels instead of single-use wood paper, and washing pads that replace plastic foam versions, great for a healthy and durable paper alternative for long camping trips or road trips.
The Anti-Bacterial Properties of Bamboo
Excepting the treatment of bamboo to create viscose rayon which destroys the anti-bacterial qualities of the final product, hard bamboo products are thankfully not treated the same. So because bamboo is already naturally anti-bacterial, the non-chimcally processed forms stay anti-bacterial.
So it can be used directly on food without the need for chemical additives, thus preserving its natural form and ensuring the purity and quality of the food. It also tastes neutral, so it won't alter the taste of what you're eating, so bamboo plates, cups and cutlery for example can be used. The camping environment is rife with opportunities to eat from improperly cleaned tableware. Bamboo offers a very last line of defence that other materials can't, both with ease of cleaning and with its anti-bacterial properties.
Bamboo is Durable and Lightweight
Bamboo has excellent wear properties such as heat resistance, water resistance and flexibility. It’s also very lightweight for its size. From a camper’s or road tripper’s point of view, these qualities are a no-brainer for travelling with.
Being lightweight makes the items more portable for travellers. And being able to withstand cold nights in the open air, hot days in the sun, or gentle rain, along with the toughness to withstand repetitive use and mistreatment make bamboo a perfect travel companion in things like camp tables and camp chairs.
Besides being a very neat and attractive looking material, bamboo is exceptionally eco-friendly. Many of the bamboo forests around the world are not even being properly managed yet, so once they come online this material will see even more innovation and use, and with greater positive environmental impact. We just need to support its use over other options where bamboo can provide the same or even better product outcomes.
Above that, bamboo is easy to keep it clean too. You can simply wipe it down with a damp cloth to remove any dirt or debris. We still recommend oiling any unsealed bamboo goods or furniture with a natural oil such as coconut oil to protect it, to ensure the maximum product lifetime you can get.
But it’s good to know that even at the end of its life, it can just be quickly composted instead of needing processing and that there will always be plenty more being grown for a widening range of products - all while pulling more than its fair share of weight to pull carbon from the atmosphere.