Being a fast-growing grass, it can be harvested after 2 or 3 years. Reaching up to 35 meter (115 ft) tall, bamboo is the largest member of the grass family. They are the fastest growing woody plants in the world. One Japanese species has been recorded as growing over 1 meter (3.3 ft) a day.
Bamboo can be grown without fertilizers or pesticides. By contrast, only 2.4% of the world’s arable land is planted with cotton, yet cotton accounts for 24% of the world’s insecticide market and 11% of the sale of global pesticides. Many of these pesticides are hazardous and toxic.
An antimicrobial agent called bamboo-kun that is found in bamboo that gives it a natural resistance to fungi and pest infestation, though some pathogens do exist in some bamboo plantations. Herbicides and fertilizer are used in some places to encourage edible shoot growth.
Bamboo is a grass and so regenerates after being cut. Hence there is no need to replant. Healthy regrowth is seen after harvesting. Biomass is also seen to increase the following year.
Bamboo has many advantages over cotton as a raw material for textiles. In comparison, cotton can take up to 20,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of cotton. Replanting of crops such as cotton on a yearly basis leads to soil erosion and also causes a severe reduction in soil quality through the impact of constant use of pesticides. Bamboo, on the other hand, with its extensive root system and the fact that it is not uprooted during harvesting helps in preserving soil and preventing soil erosion. An effective watershed can be created with bamboo. This reduces water run-off while holding the soil in place. This is critical to places prone to mudslides, where deforestation has been done and along river banks.
Compare this to cotton – harvesting organic cotton requires the destruction of the entire crop causing bare soils to bake in the sun and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Before replanting next year's crop the cotton farmers till the fields which releases yet more CO2.
Textiles labelled as being made from bamboo are usually not made by mechanical crushing and retting. They are generally synthetic rayon made from cellulose extracted from bamboo.
Land use is critical as the world populations has grown to 8 billion and is expected to become 10 billion by 2050. Sustainable land use practices provide both economic and environmental benefits. Bamboo can be used as food, fiber and shelter and due to its ease of growth and extraordinary growth rate it is a cheap, sustainable and efficient crop. Bamboo grows in clumps and therefore less land is used.
Bamboo yield is generally up to 60 tons per hectare greatly exceeding the average yield of 20 tons for most trees.
Bamboo minimizes CO2 and generates up to 35% more oxygen than equivalent stands of trees. One hectare of bamboo sequesters 62 tons of carbon dioxide per year while one hectare of young forest only sequesters 15 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
Bamboo provides an alternative source of timber for the construction industry and cellulose fiber for the textile industry. It can thus prevent deforestation. When a bamboo cane is cut down, it will produce another shoot and is ready for harvest again in as little as one year. In harsh weather conditions such as drought, flood and high temperatures, bamboo exhibits resilience.
Just like other cellulose-based clothing materials, bamboo fiber is biodegradable in soil by microorganisms and sunlight. Having reached the end of its useful life, clothing made from bamboo can be composted and disposed of in an organic and environmentally friendly manner.