How Bamboo and Hemp Can Help the Environment

Jori Hamilton – Contributing Writer

Posted on Tuesday 14th July 2020
Green leaf plant against white venetian window blinds


As we are becoming more aware of the negative impact of industrialization, we are looking for natural alternatives. To do this, we need to reduce the number of manmade building materials we use such as concrete. We also need to turn to more natural alternatives for textiles. Hemp and bamboo are not only natural alternatives for building and clothing but also a means to save our environment.  

Why are bamboo and hemp more environmentally friendly than, let’s say, cotton or wood products, and what can be made from them?  This article will explore why cotton and wood are not as environmentally friendly as one might think, and how bamboo and hemp can help the environment and lend themselves to ultimately saving the Earth.

Wood and Cotton: Not What They Seem

Even though wood is considered a renewable resource, the demand for wood products and the supply does not sync. The number of trees cut down is far more than supply, causing deforestation. In addition, pulp mills release environmental hazards including mercury into the water supply and odoriferous gasses that are sometimes toxic into the air. Preservatives and fungicides used on the wood are also harmful and are sometimes carcinogenic.  

As for cotton, the Organic Trade Association calls cotton the “World’s Dirtiest Crop” due to the number of pesticides used in its production. And it’s not just the insecticides that are wrong with cotton. It takes an exorbitant amount of water to grown cotton, and about 70% of the cotton grown in the U.S. is from genetically modified seeds. Then, once the cotton is harvested, many chemicals are used in manufacturing including dyes and bleaches. The result is a very unhealthy, environmentally unfriendly piece of merchandise. 

Despite all of the bad press or maybe because of it, the paper industry is doing all it can to ensure consumers continue using their eco-unfriendly products. They are seeking new, creative means to add wood fibers to electronics as well as hygiene products and cosmetics. Also, as legislation is being passed to reduce single-use, oil-based plastics, the wood industry is stepping in with “recyclable bioplastics” created using wood fiber.

The cotton industry is also stepping in. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) formed the Better Cotton Initiative. For farmers to join, they must execute ways to use water more efficiently and conserve the environment around them, show concern for the soil, and cut back on damaging measures used to safeguard their crops.

Now that we see how harmful cotton and wood are to our ecosystem, let’s take a look at natural, eco-friendly alternatives: bamboo and hemp.

Benefits of Bamboo

Bamboo is a very fast-growing plant able to grow almost 100 inches in a day. This makes it an extremely renewable resource. While it takes 10-30 years for trees to grow to harvest, bamboo can be harvested within 3-5 years.

Additionally, bamboo makes an excellent building material. It can be grown in whatever shape you need and there are varieties that are as strong as steel and more compressed than concrete. Plus, there are many architectural advantages to bamboo:

  • Extremely lightweight, making it easy to transport.

  • Very strong. It is actually used as scaffolding in some places.

  • Resistant to both high winds and shocks.

  • Found and grown in many areas of the world.

In addition to its pros as a building material, it is also environmentally friendly:

  • Its waxy coating resists water so painting it with chemicals is not necessary.

  • Pesticides are not needed for it to grow.

  • When smoked, it produces its own insecticide.

  • It absorbs nitrogen and can reduce pollution when planted near factories.

  • Small farms and villages are planting it to slow down or stop erosion.

Hemp, The Ancient Alternative

For quite a while, hemp was illegal to grow in some areas of the United States, because of its controversial and sometimes illegal cousin, marijuana. The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, however, loosened regulations on hemp and CBD growth throughout the country. 

Hemp was used for clothing in Ancient China as well as paper for early Buddhist writings. Even the people in the Middle Ages used hemp for clothing as well as for rope and sails. It can be used for an array of paper and clothing products. It can even be made into a towel that could be used in lieu of paper towels or an air-dry blower in public restrooms. Here are some advantages of using hemp for fabric:

  • Breathes and insulates so it is always comfortable.

  • Can be made into very soft clothing that gets softer over time.

  • Contains a natural UV protectant.

  • Is very durable and is resistant to abrasions.

  • Absorbs water very well.

Hemp is a natural fiber that is more eco-friendly than polyester or synthetically-made material. It has the following properties that make it perfect for protecting and preserving our environment: 

  • 100% reusable and biodegradable

  • Reduces the carbon dioxide in the air more than most plants

  • Has very deep roots that absorb chemicals and pollutants

  • Can be grown without using herbicides

What You Can Do to Help

Although our society has become aware of the need for renewable resources to help the environment, it has taken manufacturers time to catch up with this concept. Companies have seen the need, however, to keep evolving. Big Data is a significant part of this shift for many companies. While some see the benefit of cutting corners and altering data to back poor environmental practices, others seek to improve upon the data. One of the smarter choices for some of these companies includes investing in renewable materials. It is our job to demand eco-friendly products like bamboo and hemp and invest our hard-earned income in the companies that align with our own beliefs.

Hemp and bamboo are two completely natural resources that have been ignored for too long. They can be used for multiple construction, clothing, and paper products among others, and by using these products, we can help the environment.

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