Representatives from governments, development organisations and the private sector took part in an INBAR event to discuss bamboo as an alternative material to plastic.
On 6 September, INBAR hosted an event on ‘Replacing Plastics with Bamboo’ at the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing, China, in coordination with the China Bamboo Industry Association and the International Centre for Bamboo and Rattan, China (ICBR).
CIFTIS, which is co-hosted by China’s Ministry of Commerce and the Beijing government, is a leading fair for trade in services. For the 2021 fair, INBAR hosted a booth featuring bamboo products, with a focus on plastic replacements.
There is increasing international pressure to quit plastics. In recent years, the harmful effects of plastic in our environment—harming marine and human health, littering beaches and landscapes, clogging waste streams and landfills—have led more countries to introduce restrictions on their production and use. Already, some 130 countries around the world have enforced some kind of plastic ban or restriction, and others have laid out ambitious visions for more circular, sustainable economic growth.
Fast-growing and versatile, bamboo can help to reduce plastic pollution as a source of both disposable and durable products, which are low-carbon to produce and can be biodegradable. In her keynote video address, Professor Jiang Zehui, Co-Chair of INBAR’s Board of Trustees, hoped that the event would “show the significance of bamboo in meeting the global demand for plastic restrictions and bans, and for low-carbon, green and sustainable development.” Mr. Meng Xianlin, Director General of the Department of International Cooperation at the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA), and Mr. Ali Mchumo, Director General of INBAR, also gave speeches noting the important role bamboo could play in a plastic-free future.
Plastic pollution is a pressing issue in China. In a presentation on China’s plastic pollution management, Dr. Wei Honglian from China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment provided an overview of the country’s recent policies to restrict and recycle plastics, including a ban on importing plastic waste. He described bamboo a “very important direction” for national plastic reduction.
With almost seven million hectares of bamboo forest, and a well-established bamboo sector, China is well-positioned to replace plastic with bamboo materials. ICBR has been leading research into new applications for bamboo products in China. Dr. Fei Benhua, Dr. Wang Ge and Dr. Ma Xinxin from ICBR introduced several of the latest bamboo applications, including eco-friendly bamboo fibre tableware to replace single-use plastics, and bamboo grid packing as an alternative to PVC in cooling towers. Dr. Fu Jinhe from INBAR also presented a number of bamboo products which are being developed, or already on the market, in China.
Theory is one thing; practice is another. Following the technical presentations, a number of company representatives shared their experiences of using bamboo to replace plastic. Ms. Joanna Zhou, from international consumer goods business Procter & Gamble, introduced the company’s new sustainable packaging, including 100% paper packaging for many products. Bamboo could have an important role in packaging. Ms. Wang Xingyi showed how her company Ningbo Shilin became a major supplier of bamboo products in China and abroad, supplying everything from toothbrushes to furniture. Mr. Li Zhengwen from Hunan Yinshan Bamboo Industry discussed how his products were helping companies replace plastic tableware with biodegradable bamboo alternatives. Finally, Mr. Yue Fusheng from Tanboocel Union introduced their bamboo fibre textiles.
As the speakers showed, bamboo products can provide a recyclable, environmentally sustainable alternative to plastic products. How to incentivise the use of bamboo?
In the final part of the event, representatives from governments and international organisations took part in a round-table event about bamboo, to discuss this question. Ambassadors from Nepal and Cyprus, as well as representatives from the Embassy of the Netherlands in Beijing, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) considered the biggest opportunities for bamboo, and some obstacles to the sector’s development.
The Ambassador of Nepal, His Excellency Mr. Mahendra Pandey, explained that while bamboo is a native plant in Nepal, more support is needed to incentivise the sector’s growth. New technologies, and more education and awareness-raising to overcome local taboos about bamboo, will help grow the sector. The Ambassador of Cyprus, His Excellency Mr. Antonios Toumazis, and Mr. Timo Verheij, from the Embassy of the Netherlands, talked about the potential of bamboo to play a role in the European Union’s (EU) directive limiting single-use plastics, and as a tool for trilateral development between the EU and bamboo-producing countries.
Professor Shahbaz Khan, Director of UNESCO Beijing, described bamboo as a “very important part of our intangible heritage” and an important way to empower local communities. UNESCO’s World Heritage sites include a number of bamboo forests. In Chishui’s Danxia World Heritage site, promoting bamboo livelihoods has had a positive effect on the surrounding forest management, providing a good case study for future work. Mr. Matteo Marchisio, Country Director of IFAD China, echoed the importance of bamboo as a source of income for rural communities, which could become more lucrative in the wake of new policies and practices regarding plastic use.
Finally, Mr. Dong Le from FAO shared some of the organisation’s recent work with bamboo, and said that FAO will be working more closely with NFGA in future to help other developing countries learn from China’s work on forestry, including the bamboo sector. He believed that “In China, there are so many things that we [INBAR and FAO] can do to promote replacing single-use plastics with bamboo”, including promoting the use of bamboo packaging with big food delivery brands.
In closing, Professor Lu Wenming, Deputy Director General of INBAR, thanked everyone for the animated discussion, and reiterated that INBAR “wants to build a global platform for trade in bamboo… to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals and carbon neutrality.” INBAR has previously held forums on bamboo to replace plastic use, at UN climate conferences, the 2020 Bo’ao International Plastic Ban Forum, and at the 2019 Ibero-Bamboo Symposium held in Spain.
Read INBAR’s fact sheet about how bamboo can replace plastic here.
For more INBAR events, consult our page here.