Bamboo has a rich history in Asia, where it has been used for centuries as a major building material, as well as being used in the construction of furniture and other items. In China, the very first papers were made out of bamboo pulp, and similar processes still make a thick grade of paper today, for traditional uses or for arts and crafts. Bamboo has a long history of culinary and medicinal applications. Its shoots are a low-calorie food that is rich in sugars and various essential minerals, and they can be cooked or eaten raw. Other elements of the plant are utilized in the ancient Indian medicinal practice, Aryuveda. Modern techniques have allowed manufacturers to derive viscose from bamboo in order to create clothing with softness comparable to cashmere. The resource as a whole is gaining increasing popularity in the West, though its versatility and quality remains underappreciated, and there is still room for much greater demand to promote its growth and harvest in new markets.
With over 1,400 different species, bamboo grows naturally throughout the world, both in tropical and temperate climates. There are three identified species that are indigenous to North America, and though the plant as a whole is far more common in Asia, there are identified regions in the United States and elsewhere that could accommodate large-scale bamboo forestry. Many species are hardy enough to grow in cold weather, so there are very few limitations on where the crop can be established. Bamboo propagates quickly because of its rhizome root system, but it is an ideal agroforestry crop, capable of occupying the same land that is devoted to other crops that do not grow in such dense arrangement.
Starting from seedlings, bamboo crops need to be maintained for a period of years before they mature, but once they break the surface of the soil, some species can grow upwards of three feet in a single day. With that amazing growth rate, mature bamboo can be harvested and replenished rapidly, allowing for a small stand of the crop to provide raw materials for numerous projects over the course of a year. In Costa Rica, for instance, 1,000 homes can be built from the product of seventy hectares of bamboo, whereas if timber was being used, builders would need to cut down 600 hectares of forest, which of course does not replenish itself as bamboo does.
Though most people would not guess it from the size of the plant, bamboo is classed as a grass. Nevertheless, it is the strongest woody plant in the world, with its tensile strength actually being greater than that of many steels. At the same time, bamboo is remarkably lightweight and flexible, a property which makes bamboo-supported structures resistant to earthquake damage. Bamboo is thus a highly renewable alternative to timber, and one that offers comparable quality despite the dominance of timber in most markets. A wider acceptance of bamboo can help to preserve trees without demanding much sacrifice from consumers with respect to construction and landscaping. But not only can bamboo help to curtail global warming by slowing the destruction of forests, which are so important for sequestration of excess carbon from the atmosphere, bamboo actually does a far better job in that role than do trees themselves.
Comparing to a stand of trees the same size as one of bamboo, the bamboo releases 35% more oxygen into the atmosphere. A necessary aspect of any effort at curtailing global warming is to encourage the preservation of every aspect of the natural environment that constitutes a natural defense against escalating quantities of carbon dioxide, and bamboo is the best example of this. Promoting the expansion of bamboo crops to new regions would mean that a greater portion of the ecosystem would be devoted to defense against climate change, while the associated resource could still be harvested readily without being destroyed and thus without their positive effects being lost to us. That is, with bamboo, the consumer secures the dual benefit of buying an excellent product and supporting a stable ecosystem. And even aside from raw bamboo for use as a building material, there are many opportunities to support the resource in the form of other types of products, no doubt with still more to come once demand for bamboo goods reaches a broader market than the current crop of highly environmentally conscious consumers.
Buying bamboo clothing is one such way of supporting a remarkable green resource while also acquiring a product with unique personal benefits. Bamboo clothing is made from viscose fiber, the best of which is broken down through a chemical process, during which responsible manufacturers capture and recycle the vast majority of waste products. From the point of production of the raw resource to the distribution of the finished product, bamboo clothing has less environmental impact than competing textiles such as cotton, and it is of noticeably higher quality. Viscose from bamboo is exceptionally soft, and consequently is an ideal material for bed sheets and bath towels. It also makes wonderful undershirts and socks, particularly for active people who spend a lot of time on outdoor activities. Viscose from bamboo material is uncommonly moisture resistant on account of the porous structure of its fibers.
The multifaceted uses of viscose from bamboo fabric parallel the versatility of the crop as a whole. In whichever form one buys bamboo products, the consumer will find a significant personal benefit and a clear indication of qualities that are unmatched by more visible and traditionally popular competing materials. Discovering the hidden benefits of bamboo is advisable not just because of the quality that the consumer will uncover for herself, but because of the effect that could be had on the planet from increasing the visibility of this highly underutilized resource. In one form or another, bamboo is everything that one could want it to be: beautiful in its raw state, amazingly strong as a building material, flexible when used in furniture and design, and delightfully soft when converted into a textile. The benefits that we can derive from this singular resource can help to remind us of the qualities that we need to have in developing a greener society. We must be soft enough to have undying compassion for our planet and everyone upon it. We must be flexible enough to change our lifestyles to meet the challenges we face. We must be strong enough to remain firm in our commitment to environmental consciousness. And the result will be naturally beautiful.
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