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China promotes bamboo as an eco-friendly substitute for plastic


China is leading the way in promoting bamboo as a sustainable substitute for plastic. In 2023, the Chinese government jointly issued the "Global Action Plan for Bamboo as a Substitute for Plastic (2023-2030)" with the International Bamboo and Rattan Organization. This ambitious plan outlines six key goals and 23 specific actions to encourage the global shift from plastic to bamboo.

China boasts abundant bamboo resources, with 837 species of bamboo. The bamboo forests cover an area of 7.56 million hectares and produce over 150 million tonnes of bamboo annually, according to Wang Ge, a researcher at National Forestry and Grassland Administration's International Centre for Bamboo and Rattan (ICBR).

As of the beginning of this year, over 20 industrial bases dedicated to bamboo-based alternatives to plastic are under construction or planned in 17 major bamboo-producing provinces of China. This surge in activity reflects the vast potential of bamboo. Currently, there are over 10,000 types of bamboo products, used in diverse fields ranging from daily-use items to industrial manufacturing, building materials and even agricultural production.

Bamboo furniture in China. /CFP
Bamboo furniture in China. /CFP

Bamboo furniture in China. /CFP

Hanchuan City in central China's Hubei Province is rich in bamboo resources, and the locals have a long-standing tradition of weaving bamboo into household utensils, a skill now recognized as intangible cultural heritage. The local government provides subsidies to inheritors of this intangible heritage, encouraging farmers to participate in bamboo weaving during their leisure time, both preserving the craft and increasing their income.

"Our products are sold to Guangdong, Fujian and other parts of China. Bamboo weavers can earn an additional 20,000 yuan per year solely from this craft," said Cai Xiaodong, a farmer in Hanchuan.

China's bamboo industry employs over 29 million people, of whom more than 19 million are farmers, accounting for over 65 percent of the total workforce. 

Additionally, the bamboo industry has over 10,000 bamboo processing enterprises. Its output value has skyrocketed from 82 billion yuan ($11 billion) in 2010 to over 410 billion yuan ($57 billion) today, with an average annual growth rate of over 30 percent. 

A person weaving bamboo into household utensils. /CFP
A person weaving bamboo into household utensils. /CFP

A person weaving bamboo into household utensils. /CFP

To promote the transition from plastic to bamboo, China is also working on technological innovation. This year, new technologies and products have emerged one after another, making bamboo a more viable substitute for plastic.

A company in the Anji National Bamboo Industry High-Tech Park has developed a new bamboo board product after researching on flame retardant formulations and conducting injection molding experiments for over a year. The new product has been upgraded from the flammable D level to the hardly flammable B1 level and has passed international certification, making it suitable for applications like airport ceilings, wall panels and even aisles.

Such technological innovations are propelling China's bamboo industry to transform from labor-intensive to technology-intensive.

(Cover image via CFP)

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