International Bamboo and Rattan Organization

International Bamboo and Rattan Organization

How can bamboo contribute to the circular economy?


How can bamboo contribute to the circular economy?

A new INBAR report assesses the potential for bamboo to contribute to a zero-waste, low-carbon future

4 December 2019 – Plastic pollution, climate change and deforestation: a number of the world’s most pressing global challenges can be traced to the extractive, ‘take, make, waste’ nature of current economic growth.

In recent years, the idea of a ‘circular economy’ has been gaining traction, in response to concerns about our linear models of production and consumption. A radical new concept for sustainable growth, the circular economy involves designing products, services and supply chains which are regenerative: that is, which are based on renewable energy and resources, do not generate waste, and keep products and materials in use for as long as possible.

Ideally, products in the circular economy would be biologically based, and quickly renewable. This is where bamboo can play a major role. A new report, commissioned by INBAR, shows how a number of bamboo products can make an important contribution to more circular living.

The report, Bamboo in the Circular Economy, finds that bamboo could be a critical component in the transition to more circular production. This fast-growing grass plant can be used to create a wide range of both durable and consumer products, which substitute those from man-made materials.

Specifically, the authors show how:

Accumulation of carbon comparison between moso bamboo and Chinese fir over time. (INBAR 2015)

Carbon footprint over lifecycle for various common building materials. Credit: MaterialDistrict

Although these products have important potential to contribute to the circular economy, the report identifies are a number of obstacles to their integration. In particular, the use of non-bio-based resins, glues and artificial preservatives in engineered bamboo materials and composites can make products unfit to upcycle or recyle; these products must instead by burned for energy at the end of their life, which is a relatively unproductive use within the circular economy. Other products, such as bamboo textiles, can be chemically intensive to produce. These current limitations are often not made clear by companies, which market bamboo goods as a ‘green’ alternative, without a serious attempt at creating a 100% biobased product.

The authors provide a number of recommendations for the further integration of bamboo products into a circular economy:

In a foreword to the report, sustainability expert and author of The Blue Economy, Gunter Pauli, praised the importance of bamboo, saying: “I am convinced that there will be no real sustainability… unless we turn bamboo into an integral part of our economy.

“It is now high time to inspire policy makers, business and financial lears to deploy all opportunities of circularity offered by bamboo.”

 The report can be accessed on INBAR’s library. It can be cited as:  van der Lugt, P., King, C. (2019) Bamboo in the Circular Economy. INBAR Policy Synthesis Report 6. Beijing, China: INBAR.

Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam’s bamboo interior. Credit: Lior Teitler | MOSO.