There are now bamboo shirts, skirts, socks, underwear, furniture, floors, paper, plates, sheets, towels, plates, bowls, spoons, kitchen utensils, keyboards, cleaning wipes...practically enough items to outfit an entire house made with bamboo everything.
But with great demand comes the need for great supply. As more and more companies look to source products using bamboo, unsustainable harvesting methods may end up killing a resource that has so much potential.
One downside of bamboo's popularity is that it's at risk from over harvesting: The United Nations warns that about half of the 1,200 varieties of bamboo in the world are extinct or in danger of being eradicated.
Enter BooShoot Gardens, a plant tissue culture laboratory out of Mount Vernon, Wash., that is growing large amounts of specific types of bamboo to replenish and increase the world's bamboo supply and meet the demand from companies like Method and Totally Bamboo.
Founded in 1998 by Jackie Heinricher, BooShoot produced 2,000 bamboo plants in 2004, the first year it released plants. This year it plans to produce more than 2 million, and has the capacity to produce 12 million.
The company sells its bamboo through wholesale growers and retailers in more than 20 states and Canada. It's been selling bamboo to a biofuel company in the southeast U.S., projects in South Africa and throughout Southeast Asia.
What's Driving the Bamboo Market
Bamboo has such a green reputation because it grows fast (earning it the moniker of a "rapidly renewable" resource as opposed to a plain old "renewable" resource, a title given to everything from trees to corn to chicken feathers), doesn't require pesticides, uses little water, and pulls carbon dioxide out of the air faster and better than other plants.
Bamboo plants sequester four times as much carbon dioxide as hardwood trees (taking in 62 tons of CO2 per 2.4 acres versus 16 tons per 2.4 acres of trees) and puts out 35 percent more oxygen.
While bamboo has been recognized for quite a while as a green material, its use has shot up in the last few years along with many other green materials. Bamboo goods are proliferating at major mainstream retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, and being used in clothing both from eco-centric companies and more mainstream ones like JCPenney and Banana Republic.
The bamboo goods industry is expected to be worth $25 billion around 2012, Heinricher said, and some companies that make or are looking into making bamboo goods are encountering a supply bottleneck.
While this demand is boosting BooShoot's business, it's having a handful of negative effects on the global bamboo supply. As demand has increased and supply tightened, the final products have been affected. Bamboo flooring, for example, is generally much thinner these days than years ago, Heinricher said.
And then there's the rate of harvesting: Bamboo can be harvested every 5-10 years, much faster than trees used for other forest-based products. But harvesting is starting to outpace bamboo growth and its ability to recover. Cutting down too much bamboo in one area can damage an even-wider stretch of the plant.
"If more than 30 percent (of an acre) is taken at any one time, it begins to affect the viability of the root system and begins to compromise bamboo's ability to replenish itself," Heinricher said.
If an area of bamboo is damaged to the point that it needs to be replanted starting from seeds (or even if farmers want to start new bamboo groves from seeds), they are limited in how many seeds they can get their hands on since it can take 60-100 years for the plants to flower.
What BooShoot Gardens is doing is cutting out that long flowering period by cloning plants - not genetically modifying them - and multiplying them, letting farmers plant them like any other crop.
(Read full article)
(Excerpt of article by Jonathan Bardelline of GreenBiz.
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Blog by: Dustin Dennison