Our world is changing and along with it, its climate. This we know. The interest in climate change has definitely surged over the last few years, helped along in part by those who for some mysterious reason defy all scientific evidence in denying this phenomenon that could have disastrous consequences for our planet and the plethora of species that reside in it, ourselves included.
So what is climate change?
To break it down quite simply, let’s start with some of the beautiful natural systems that our world is equipped with, allowing life to thrive. Animals need Oxygen to survive which means as we breathe in we take in some of the oxygen from the atmosphere and then pass back Carbon Dioxide. So this would mean then that oxygen would eventually be replaced by CO2? Thankfully, we have so many wondrous plants surrounding us who in turn, through a process called photosynthesis, take in CO2 and expel Oxygen back into the air. This system of co-habitation between animals and plants should therefore be sustainable nearly indefinitely? Unfortunately, over time, humans have developed rapidly in a manner that is quite dependent on fossil fuels (coal and oil), the burning of which releases more CO2 into the atmosphere. The pace at which we release CO2 into the air is much higher than our green cover is able to remove via photosynthesis, hence the ever increasing CO2 levels.
Why are rising CO2 levels a concern?
Carbon Dioxide is a Greenhouse Gas, which means it absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range, increasing the temperature of the air and warming the surface of the Earth. Over time this increase in temperature has become significant enough to be plainly observed around us, be it increasingly hotter summers, out of the ordinary meteorological phenomena, melting permafrost and so much more. Recent estimates suggest that global warming could reach “dangerous” levels by just 2036 (19 years away)!
Where does Bamboo come in?
There are several initiatives being embarked upon worldwide to slow down climate change, such as reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and increasing our green cover. Bamboo can help in both of these as we will talk about shortly, however, it is in the latter in which Bamboo really shines. Research has demonstrated that bamboo can absorb as much as 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year (nearly 30% more than hardwood trees) giving the plant a potentially crucial role in stabilising our planet’s atmosphere.
Roti, Kapda aur Makaan
While the plentiful uses of Bamboo are absolutely astounding, we will limit ourselves here to what we have long considered the basics – food on our plates, clothes on our backs and a roof over our heads. A lot of this may be news to you but Bamboo definitely has a place in all of these aspects of our lives.
Let’s start with construction – most of us are aware that Bamboo is used in building houses especially in many rural and tribal areas. But did you know though that Bamboo can also be used in building permanent concrete housing? Bamboo can actually be used in place of iron rebar to reinforce concrete structures!
In tests of tensile strength, Bamboo outperforms most materials, including steel. Bamboo has a dividing or transverse wall in between each of its nodes that maintains strength while still allowing bending. This makes it well suited for earthquake-resistant construction too!
So why hasn’t it become mainstream yet? Like all organic materials, the primary issue is longevity. However, research in this area has been stepping up with Singapore Future Cities Laboratory looking into methods to address this problem, thereby paving the way for Bamboo to fully enter mainstream construction.
Next on our list is Bamboo for food production. Here, Bamboo can be used both as an ingredient in drinks and dishes, as well as a cooking fuel in the form of Bamboo Charcoal.
Bamboo Charcoal comes from pieces of Bamboo plants harvested when fully mature (at least 5 years) and burned at extremely high temperatures. Pollutant residues are minimised when using Bamboo Charcoal as a fuel. Bamboo also has other larger-scale industrial uses as Biofuel. In fact, a first-of-its-kind refinery is being set up at Numligarh, Assam to process Bamboo which grows abundantly in the region into Biofuel. Elsewhere in the world, Hitachi has developed a technology to use bamboo fuel for boilers and biomass power generation.
While Bamboo can be used to fuel your cooking, it can also serve as a delicious ingredient in food and drinks. Bamboo shoots are said to strengthen the immune system, have anti-inflammatory properties and a good supply of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre with a negligible amount of fat.
A 100 gram serving of bamboo shoots contains only 20 calories, 3-4 grams of carbs and less than 0.5 grams of fat. Further, according to research studies, phytosterols and phytonutrients found in bamboo shoots are ideal for dissolving harmful LDL cholesterol in the body. This eases cholesterol out of arteries for the smooth supply and movement of blood throughout the body.
So how do you consume Bamboo in your food & drink? Bamboo shoots can be used in curries, stews, soups, pickle and more. The juice extracted from Bamboo canes is low in sugar and high in nutrients. If you need your carb fix, consider Bamboo rice (Moongil Arisi or Mulayari in Tamil) which resembles paddy but tastes more like wheat with a much higher protein content. However, Bamboo rice (from Bamboo seeds) is not commonly available as it comes only from canes that have matured enough to flower. An alternative is Bamboo white rice which is short-grained rice infused with Bamboo juice to bring in all that Bamboo goodness! Similarly, Bamboo seed flour can be used to make more wholsesome alternatives to rotis and dosas. Follow our blog to stay updated on various Bamboo-based recipes.
On the more fun side, Bamboo can also be brewed into Beer! Bamboo beer is produced by fortifying beer with bamboo leaf extract during the normal brewing process. It is characterized by the aroma of bamboo leaves with a refreshing taste. Bamboo beer has anti-oxidant properties and can help lower blood lipids over time. A beer that’s also good for you – sign me up please!
That leaves us with kapda, or the clothes on our backs. Over the last few years, Bamboo in textiles has been gaining popularity for a multitude of reasons which you can read about here. At present, the majority of Bamboo yarn produced globally is by the viscose method, wherein natural plant fibres are broken down using chemical solvents. This is largely done to soften the texture of the fibres and also to increase the efficiency of the output. Mechanical grinding of Bamboo followed by dissolving in its own juices is sparsely done and may not be the most scalable method to ramp up Bamboo as a mainstream fabric. However, huge progress has been made in the lyocell method which is a closed-loop process using only organic solvents and this is where we believe the future of Bamboo fabric lies.
This technology is likely to become more widespread if the awareness and demand of Bamboo fabric grows, which is what we at Bamboo Tribe aim to do. Our goal is to push more towards more sustainable methods of processing bamboo into fibre as we are already well aware of the vast benefits it brings in terms of cultivation practices over cotton fibre and the biodegradability it offers versus polyester and other synthetics. With your support, Bamboo fabric will not only become more eco-friendly with time but the cost will also reduce as cultivation and processing scales up in an organized fashion.
Thank you for embarking with us on this exciting journey!