In this text we want to introduce you to bamboo, a plastic-free, naturally renewable raw material. For this we will explain the raw material bamboo including cultivation, environmental compatibility and the like and we will talk about its advantages over the commercially available raw material plastic. We will touch on topics such as bio- or microplastics and discuss in detail with you why bamboo is a good, plastic-free alternative.
Bamboo - better than plastic?
Plastics - colloquially also called plastic - are substances that consist of polymers. The polymers can consist of naturally renewable raw materials (and are then called bioplastics) or of conventional raw materials such as fossil fuels. Despite the more environmentally friendly alternative, plastic is currently almost exclusively (> 95%) made from fossil fuels. Plastic is therefore largely a finite product, which is also in direct competition with energy generation from fossil fuels.
However, plastics have a high level of stability combined with an equally high formability, are unbreakable and resistant to temperature and chemicals. Thanks to these excellent properties, the purpose of plastics is versatile. Whether as fiber, film, packaging material, textile fiber or cosmetics: Almost no product can do without at least a little plastic. Not least because of this, the per capita consumption of the world population has increased continuously in recent years. For example, between 1950 and 2015, over 8 billion tons of plastic have been produced.
The disposal of plastic currently relies primarily on landfill in garbage dumps (79%) followed by incineration (12%). Only 9% are recycled. Of course, it should be noted that these percentages are strongly country-dependent and that the recycling rate is higher in Germany, for example. 70% of plastic waste in Europe ends up in landfills or serves as an energy source.
However, plastics are increasingly accumulating in the environment worldwide due to improper disposal.They destroy ecosystems and continue to drive environmental problems. Plastic takes between 450 and 600 years until it is no longer detectable in the environment and therefore no longer pollutes the environment. No wonder that there are already gigantic garbage strudel in the sea. Plastic waste is also accumulating on the beach.It now accounts for up to 85% of all rubbish on European beaches.Even worse is the fact that 50% of this plastic waste in turn consists of single-use products, ie products that have only been used once.
The EU has now declared war on disposable products. She plans a plastic waste tax and the ban on common disposable products such as straws or cotton swabs. From 2030, every plastic packaging should also be recyclable. But plastic also has other problems: microplastics, tiny particles made of plastic, arise when plastic is broken down. Every year, every German produces 4kg of microplastics that continuously accumulate in the environment. The majority of this 4kg is due to tire abrasion. In some products - cosmetics and care products - microplastics are deliberately added to achieve a higher cleaning effect. The effects of this microplastics on the environment and on us are still not fully understood. It is only known that there is an accumulation in the environment and in animals such as fish. The fact that plastic often contains toxic plasticizers or styrenes only exacerbates the problem.
Bamboo - better than bioplastic?
So-called bioplastics are enjoying increasing popularity. Even though its market share is still a negligible 1.5-2%, the growth rates are still enormous. Bioplastics are made from renewable raw materials such as lactic acid or corn. It is potentially 100% degradable. Unfortunately, bioplastics are often added to conventional plastics (and this is not always communicated to the consumer in exactly the same way). The decomposition of bioplastics in the composting plant depends on factors such as temperature, humidity and time. Since no residue-free degradation is possible within the usual 6-8 weeks for composting plants, it currently has to be disposed of as residual waste, where it mostly serves to generate energy.
In addition to the disposal problems, there is also the problem that bioplastics are currently increasingly being produced from edible plants such as corn or sugar cane. This means that its production is in direct competition with the production of food. In addition, these plants need to be fertilized, watered and treated with pesticides against pests. Cultivation in monocultures also affects the insect world. It would be better to only use waste from agriculture and forestry. Together with better waste management, bioplastics would all in all be a completely biological alternative to conventional plastics.
Bamboo - a plastic-free alternative?
Bamboo is a naturally renewable raw material of organic origin, which is specifically cultivated by humans and is used beyond the food sector. The opposite of renewable raw materials is the non-renewable raw materials such as oil or coal. They have a finite occurrence. This fact already highlights the first advantage of bamboo: it has no expiry date, but can still be available to humans for hundreds of years.
Bamboo is a wood-like raw material that is, however, not obtained from trees, but from a sweet grass plant. This means that bamboo is more closely related to corn or wheat than to trees. Bamboo owes its high stability to the fact that it is lignin and cellulose like wood, comparable to wood. Thanks to this process, the raw material shows high product similarities with wood. Accordingly, the possible uses are overlapping. Bamboo is very hard and dense, at the same time light and flexible, durable and robust, making it an ideal raw material for numerous products. New processing methods such as the production of viscose from bamboo have also allowed the market for bamboo products to grow steadily in recent years.
Bamboo forms numerous hollow or full-marrow stalks from an underground root meristem, some of which have branches. The plant grows up to 40m high and can be found up to 4000m high. The distribution area extends worldwide with the exception of Europe and Antarctica. The bamboo that is commercially available in Europe mostly comes from small farmers in China. These often grow the bamboo with little fertilizer and do not use pesticides. Bamboo is a very hardy plant. The impact of bamboo cultivation on the environment can therefore be seen as comparatively minor.
The advantages of bamboo over wood
Bamboo has several far-reaching advantages over wood, because wood needs one thing above all: a lot of time. This fact in particular often makes wood appear unattractive compared to the rapidly produced plastic. Bamboo, on the other hand, is a fast growing raw material compared to conventional natural and renewable raw materials. Thanks to an enormously high height growth (up to more than 1m per day!) And the rapid storage of lignin and cellulose, a bamboo straw is ripe after 3-5 years of harvest. What may seem like a long period of time is put into perspective by the fact that woods need at least 30 but often up to 50-80 years to harvest.
Another advantage of bamboo over wood: Since the large-scale meristem constantly forms new shoots, the entire plant is never felled, but only individual components. The plant itself remains just as intact as the bamboo forest ecosystem. For example, studies have shown that after two years of bamboo cultivation, 70% less erosion occurs. Bamboo also stores CO 2 as it grows. It is therefore CO 2 neutral. But that's not enough of a good thing: Bamboo also produces an average of 45% more oxygen than a standard tree.
Like plastic, bamboo is currently still being produced and manufactured primarily outside of Germany. The transport costs for both raw materials have a negative impact on the environmental balance. Domestic woods are potentially ahead here: their transport route is much shorter. Since German forests are also managed sustainably, ie only individual trees are removed from the forest in a targeted manner and new plants are constantly being planted, they are to be regarded as incomparably better than bamboo or even plastic. However, the German forests cannot meet our raw material requirements. We are therefore dependent on other alternatives. This alternative is currently plastic, but could also be bamboo in the future.
In the production of bamboo, 10 to 15 tons of biomass can be obtained per hectare of cultivated area per year - mind you already with sustainable cultivation, ie with an annual removal of 20-25% of the crop. This high amount of biomass is mainly due to the enormous growth rate of bamboo. It increases 10-30% of biomass annually. In contrast, trees only have a max. 5% increase in biomass per year. As a result, bamboo produces 20 times the amount of raw material on wood per hectare.
After harvesting, the bamboo is dried, pressed together, cut to size and finally cut.Processed like this, it has a lifespan of decades. The surface of bamboo and its other product properties are comparable to that of wood. It is only much more homogeneous from the outside, since it has a uniform structure with few knotholes. In terms of price, bamboo is in the middle price range compared to wood.
Bamboo as a raw material - our conclusion
Bamboo is a great raw material. It can be used as an alternative to conventional plastic or wood or for the production of bio-materials and bio-fibers. Its popularity is mainly due to its rapid harvest maturity. This also makes bamboo economically a popular raw material that has the potential to take the pressure off our environment.