Based on bamboo

Sticking out: In the wake of severe environmental deterioration, the many merits of the plant have been reassessed

Extracted bamboo fibers and granules

Whether it’s a cradle to rock a baby, a ladder to step higher, a walking stick for support or a bier to carry the corpse, at every stage, bamboo is part of life. Perhaps it is the best element that can portray the integral bond between humans and nature.

Typically belonging to the grass family, bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on earth. As it grows naturally in forests and regenerates itself after being cut, it stands strong in terms of a renewable resource. Until recently, bamboo was confined to forests. The increased industrial and domestic use necessitated its cultivation in farmlands too.

It grows without pesticides, fertilisers or irrigation, and can be harvested within three to five years. Compared to other trees, it produces more oxygen, eliminates carbon dioxide, and is carbon-neutral. 

Many uses

India is one of the leading producers of bamboo. Considering the merits, bamboo is as an exceptional alternative to materials that are hazardous to the environment and tapping its unrealised potential is substantial. Different parts of the plant are utilised in culinary, medicine, textile, paper, construction, furniture, home décor and more domains.

A Bengaluru-based firm, Spectalite, aspires to habitually adopt sustainable materials like bamboo in automobile parts and other household articles.

After three years of relentless research and with the comprehensive support from the Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST) and other organisations, they can now provide lightweight solutions to automotive companies.

Today, a passenger car has about 100 kg of plastic in it. As opposed to plastic, bamboo is stronger and stiffer, and is heat and fire-resistant. It absorbs carbon dioxide and locks it in the product.

So, substituting plastic with bamboo fibres would be an impressive execution. “Based on the varied functional requirements of each component, we have been able to cut plastic down by 25-50%. Here, we create tremendous value by bringing together bamboo, which is one of god’s greatest creations, and plastic, which is one of the most versatile human inventions. Response from our customers is slow but good,” Mahadev C, director of the firm, stated. The firm sources bamboo (usually waste) from agarbatti and furniture industries. Fibre is extracted from it and mixed with a binder to produce granules, which can be poured into moulds to make useful commodities.

Besides automobile parts, they also fabricate home and kitchen-utility items like cutlery, toys and packaging material. They have even extended their research with bamboo fibres to other agri-waste and fast renewable resources such as rice husk, coffee husk, etc, and have practically used them in their products.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have our coffee in cups made from coffee husk and dinner in plates made with rice husk?” he quipped.

All the kitchenware is tested for food-contact safety, is microwave-certified and absolutely biodegradable. Toys made with these bio-compounds are non-toxic and child-friendly. “We have done field trials and received excellent feedback. We are now in the process of getting certifications and government approvals to launch these products,” he conveyed.

With the ever-growing demand for wood for construction and its dwindling supply, it becomes crucial to replace it without depleting our natural resources. Bamboo can be used instead, but it has to be adequately treated.

Builders’ fave

Earlier, it was considered to be the building material of poor, but now it’s rapidly becoming the architect’s and artist’s choice, and is used in the construction of homes and office spaces.

Indian Plywood Industries Research & Training Institute (IPIRTI), a scientific establishment under the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, facilitates research and training in the field. IPIRTI’s initiatives in the development of wood substitutes in the form of bamboo composites have alleviated the shortage of traditional timber to a great extent.

Kiran M C, a scientist at the IPIRTI, explained how bamboo composites are made, “Bamboo is primarily processed to make slivers. The slivers are handwoven into 8x4-feet mats. This is done by rural women and generates employment for them. The mats are then dipped in resin/adhesive — urea formaldehyde (UF) or phenol formaldehyde (PF). Several layers of mats are joined together and pressed under specific temperature and pressure to obtain a host of products. Based on the preliminary processing, the final products include mat-based and strip-based products.”

The products have excellent dimensional stability and are fire-resistant, boiling-water-proof, non-permeable, anti-termite, weather resistant and eco-friendly.

Neelam Manjunath is an architect at Manasaram Architects, a Bengaluru-based firm.

Her passion for sustainable architecture, with emphasis on bamboo, is reflected in all her works. “Over 50% of carbon emission is due to building materials. Human Development Index (HDI) is low in India and progress is inevitable. So, bamboo in architecture is an ideal option as it’s resource-efficient and can be processed with least energy. But one should keep in mind it can’t be used randomly. The appropriateness of bamboo in a particular setting must be verified first,” she specified.

Manasaram Architects source their bamboo from the local bamboo bazaar in Bengaluru, buying 4-inch and 2-inch sticks. Basically, they design the structure and the builders execute the plan. Gurudayal Saran, a builder, cited that 4-inch sticks are used in making columns and 2-inch ones are used in the main structure. Over the past three decades, they have effectively accomplished more than 500 projects ranging from low-cost toilets to bus stops, housing complexes, schools, temples, parks and an urban proposition of a metro station serving a wide spectrum of needs. Bamboo is a quintessential material for making handicrafts as it is easily workable. For rural and tribal communities associated with it, bamboo sector creates major means of livelihood.

Some species of bamboo are edible. Their tender shoots (colloquially known as kalale or kanile), available in monsoon, are used to make curries, soups, pickles, papads, and other dishes. By preserving them in salt water, they can be used throughout the year. Another special yield of bamboo is the bamboo rice.

Once the bamboo plant is 40-60 years old, it blossoms, and the flowers produce fruits (bamboo rice), following which the plant dies. This rice, that has taken so long to form, possesses certain medicinal properties and is rich in nutrition, too.

Bamboo pickles, preserves and bamboo rice are small-scale enterprises in Malenadu and Dakshina Kannada regions. As it has antibacterial properties, bamboo knife was used to cut the umbilical cord after childbirth.Bamboo has many other uses, too.

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