• Jennifer Scales

How Sustainable is Bamboo?

The future of paper.


Did you know that nearly 50% of all trees cut down globally are turned into paper? A small percentage ends up as books or art paper and is cherished for years, but most of the paper is single-use. This could be the paper bag that holds your groceries, the flyer that you don’t even look at before throwing it away, or the quintessential one-time-use item – toilet paper.


A quick Google search turns up the astonishing (yet not fact-checked) number of 384 trees that are needed to produce the amount of toilet paper an average American uses in a lifetime. There must be a better way!



HERE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE


In 2019, a Californian company set out to do just that. I came across Reel when vetting them for products for the askBelynda plugin, and instantly loved their idea: Toilet paper made from Bamboo, packaged without plastic, generating profits that are used to help improve sanitation for those in need.


Hand holding a Reel bamboo toilet paper roll with text

This is how Reel describes their mission:


“We’re on a mission to affect as many lives as possible by providing much-needed access to clean toilets for those without.”


If you want to discover cool companies like this and make sustainable shopping simple for you, download the free askBelynda Chrome extension:

 

Sustainable shopping made simple.

 

BAMBOO vs WOOD


But how exactly is bamboo better than wood?

Most people know that bamboo grows incredibly fast. I mean, can you imagine a plant that grows 3 feet per day?! You can practically watch it get bigger. That fact alone makes it a great resource, but there are more substantial differences between trees and bamboo. When you cut bamboo, which is technically a type of grass, it grows back from the same root. This means that the same plant can be harvested again and again, while the root system protects the soil from erosion.



BAMBOO FARMING


Bamboo is a very resilient plant; it grows well without the use of pesticides or fertilizer and usually doesn’t need artificial irrigation. All these characteristics allow for sustainable farming practices.


Today, bamboo is mainly grown in China, where environmental and social standards are not always what we would hope for. So far, cultivation has not yet been industrialized to any great extent and is characterized by small-scale farming structures, which are generally more sustainable.


But the increased demand for bamboo as a sustainable and ethical alternative has also led to interesting new developments. Reel, for example, sources its bamboo from renewable and protected, naturally grown bamboo forests in southwestern China. These forests are strictly for manufacturing and don't impede or destroy any animal habitats. In addition, the production is FSC certified.





While China is by far the biggest producer and exporter of bamboo, there is increased interest in this power plant around the world. In Ethiopia, bamboo is planted to stop desertification and protect the soil. Besides these very immediate benefits, the growth of the bamboo industry will also lead to jobs and economic wealth in one of the world’s poorest countries.



THE DOWNSIDE OF BAMBOO


If you care about sustainability, you probably prefer local products. This is so far the biggest downside of bamboo: it’s shipped halfway around the globe before it gets to you. In the future, we might see plantations popping up all over the world, but for now, this is a real concern.


Reel acknowledges this problem and has opted for offsetting 100% of the carbon footprint for overseas shipping. It’s going to be interesting to see how the increased demand for sustainable paper alternatives will influence production in the future.


We are seeing more and more products made of bamboo. When you use the askBelynda plugin, you will often see them pop up as a suggestion while you shop on Amazon.





 

Jennifer Scales is a photo artist and train travel enthusiast. When she is not vetting companies for askBelynda, she spreads her love for sustainable travel by capturing the beauty of nature seen through the train window.

Check out her website Landscape in Motion and follow Jennifer Scales | Fine Art on Instagram to see her artwork.


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