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China is harnessing bamboo’s potential to create biodegradable products, combating plastic pollution while facing challenges in cost and public acceptance.

China is embarking on a sustainable journey, leveraging its rich bamboo resources as an eco-friendly alternative to plastic. Ye Senlin’s Senlin Biotechnology is leading this ecological transition, specializing in creating biodegradable bamboo products. Anji county, abundant in bamboo, has become the focal point of this green transformation, representing China’s commitment to environmental sustainability and economic development.

China, a major producer of both bamboo and plastic waste, is revamping its bamboo industry to reduce plastic consumption. The nation is evolving from producing basic bamboo items to crafting advanced biodegradable products. However, the industry is confronting obstacles such as high manufacturing costs and low public acceptance, which are slowing down progress.

Anji, with its traditional bamboo production base, is integrating this sustainable material into its green transformation strategy, coupled with tourism and the local production of white tea. The county houses over 100 bamboo companies, with their combined sales surpassing 1.25 billion yuan (US$171 million) last year. However, bamboo-made bags are still struggling to gain acceptance and are heavily reliant on government support for promotion.

The manufacturing of bamboo products is associated with a 20 to 30 per cent higher cost compared to plastic products, a significant barrier in the absence of demand. China has been implementing measures to diminish plastic consumption since 2008 and introduced more stringent bans in 2020. However, plastic bags continue to be widely available and are often provided for free in many places, including major cities like Shanghai.

The county has more than 100 bamboo companies, and their combined sales reached 1.25 billion yuan (US$171 million) last year, according to local figures. As a result of the government’s initiative, it has so far received orders for 2 million disposable bamboo-made bags, the county’s forestry bureau said in a press release.

According to the South China Morning Post, the domestic market for bamboo products requires stronger support from authorities due to the higher costs and lack of regulatory standards for production. Moreover, competition with large plastic product manufacturers is intense, and without substantial government policies, bamboo products struggle to compete. Last year, China generated 63 million tonnes of plastic waste, with only about 30 per cent being recycled.

Bamboo is being recognized as an ideal substitute in China, which accounts for a third of the world’s total bamboo acreage. A study in Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering estimated that replacing 20 per cent of plastic tableware with bamboo-fibre products would result in a substantial reduction in carbon emissions, equivalent to removing 300,000 cars in a small city.

The journey towards a bamboo-centric future is fraught with challenges, including high production costs, absence of regulatory standards, and competition from established plastic manufacturers. The realization of this sustainable future is dependent on the implementation of robust government policies, increased public acceptance, and a collective commitment to environmental conservation.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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