By Jeffrey Bradley
Eco-chic, trendy bamboo isn’t a tree but a sturdy grass. It’s versatile, too, and a favorite of those wanting to live “the green life.” Strong, hard, and fast growing, it’s used all over the world in surprising fashion. The fact that it’s easily harvested, has more compressive strength than concrete, and the same tensile ratio as steel, makes bamboo an environmental dream.
It almost has status as a panacea. Bamboo bicycles, toilets and clocks exist, as do utensils, fences, musical instruments and screening. It’s also edible. While still costing more than mass-produced or petroleum-based products, prices continue to tumble. So if you’re aiming for a sustainable architectural form in alternative home construction, with the same quality standards of a traditional house, bamboo may be right for you.
Processing bamboo may rely on harsh chemicals, and developing-world farmers might also be enticed into disrupting already fragile ecosystems, but bamboo’s positives far outweigh its negatives.
Key is the way it combines the strength of a hardwood with the sustainability of grass. One big benefit—besides growing super-fast and yielding up to 20 times more timber in a given area than a similar stand of timber — is the absence of fertilizers, pesticides, or even much water. A grove releases up to 35 percent more oxygen than trees, cuts global warming more, and matures within seven years. Some bamboo doubles in size in a day (compared to the mighty oak, which takes 120 years!), while preventing erosion and growing in a diversity of climates.
Here are seven ways environmentally-friendly bamboo can benefit your lifestyle:
1. As a sturdy building material
Cost-effective, easy to use and easier to transport, bamboo poses no danger to health. Stronger, more fire, termite and moisture resistant than traditional hardwoods, its natural pliancy makes it earthquakes resistant and ideal for support columns, planking and roofing trusses. You can even “grow your own home” by purchasing a prefabricated bamboo house!
2. As a stylish interior enhancement
Bringing a modern yet traditional aspect inside your home is easy with bamboo. Quirky patterns can be used creatively as flooring or accent walls and express a perfect Zen balance of performance and look. Whether you seek a hipster-vibe or the more traditional approach adaptable, subtle bamboo will add a touch of elegance to your home as well as value.
3. As a functional textile
Bamboo is making inroads as an absorbent new fabric for clothing, bedding, towels, rugs, underwear and baby diapers. Air-permeable and soft as silk, the fabric will dry in less time than cotton and contains natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Even nighties are being made of this durable material!
4. As functional kitchenware
Bamboo cutting boards are more stylish and easier to clean than the plastic varieties. Bamboo accents on utensils become more lustrous with handling. And bamboo steamers are increasingly popular as a healthy alternative to boiling vegetables to preserve flavor and important nutrients. And lose your Arm & Hammer — finely ground bamboo charcoal doubles as an air freshener and an odor-absorber! Beyond killing odors in the refrigerator, if placed in closets and cabinets bamboo charcoal makes an excellent dehumidifier.
5. As unusual musical instruments
Bamboo flutes and panpipes have been around for ages, but did you know it’s also used in a variety of percussive instruments? The xylophone and the angklung, an Indonesian instrument of tuned bamboo tubes positioned in a bamboo frame that produces a melodious percussive sound are just two examples. Speaker cabinets made with bamboo’s rich hues lend a rustic look that complements conventional black speakers perfectly
6. As versatile sports equipment
Bamboo is literally grown into a variety of innovative bicycle shapes by manipulating the frames in a way that resembles pruning a bonsai tree. It can even be made into protective head gear! A bamboo motorcycle helmet recently passed the rigorous safety standards of the United Kingdom and in a far more stylishly fashion than plastic. Not bad for a grass! Bamboo fishing poles, easy to bend but difficult to break, are always in vogue, and its strong fibers are also woven into fishing nets. Boat hulls made with incredibly diverse bamboo are proving to be tough, light, and water-resistant.
7. As fashionable computer hardware
Bamboo is increasingly supplanting metal and plastic for its durability. Its aesthetically-pleasing veneer softens the edginess of hard-drive cases, keyboard covers, computer mice, and USB flash drives, and are more ecologically sound. Beyond applications as a veneer, prototype laptops are being constructed entirely of solid bamboo, making them nearly completely biodegradable. And, the industry is making great strides into a responsible green future by using bamboo-fiber packing materials for protecting products during shipping.
In many ways, bamboo is rapidly becoming the preferred alternative to traditional wood!
A Brief History of Bamboo
The tallest of grasses, bamboo was widespread in ancient China. Now it grows profusely in South America, northern Australia and the southern United States. It’s been historically significant especially in Asian households, and also used as weaponry. Important bamboo “slip” writing has been found in burial tombs 5,000 years old, and during the Ming Dynasty bamboo charcoal was discovered to burn much cleaner than charcoal. In 1894, a patent was filed in England for the first bamboo bicycle. And, in 1947, Gucci jump-started the current craze by unveiling the first bamboo handbag.
Images used with permission, courtesy of www.dreamstime.com and www.shutterstock.com