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Ban on single-use plastic is a worry for many of us. Can bamboo-based items be a replacement for plastic in future? Many of these bamboo items can be manufactured in India at a lower cost. A bit of R&D and promotion of a few medium-sized bamboo-based industries/ clusters can solve this problem. It just needs the right kind of resolve.

Venu, the Sanskrit name for bamboo is the melodious precursor of the flute played by Venu Gopal or Lord Krishna. Even the incense sticks used for His prayers have traditionally been hand-made, from Indian bamboo. Unfortunately, today we import Rs. 800 crore incense sticks from China because the factory-made Chinese sticks are cheap and of better ‘quality’. Incensed?

Growing More Bamboo

So, why is bamboo not grown on a large scale in our country? To date, organized tree plantation drives have not given many direct returns to the planters. In fact, in many places bamboo has been either chopped off or just burnt for tree plantation, agriculture, or making housing colonies.

The bamboo industry, if given a fair chance, will gainfully employ a lot of unskilled laborers, especially women in their ancestral homes. The more they work and gain experience, the better products they will be able to make. Their bamboo products can also replace the ubiquitous ‘plastic’ products of daily use like toothbrushes, combs, disposable cutlery, and many more. A clear win-win situation.

The entire life’s requirement of many forest dwellers and remote Adivasis is met by bamboo which they cultivate themselves. Most of the handwork for bamboo products is done by women. Bamboo is extensively grown and used in all north-eastern states and in the Andaman Islands. It was also grown and used widely in West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, and the States of western ghats.

First, let’s see some more attributes of the uniquely beneficial bamboo.

  • Bamboo is not a tree but a kind of grass. Yet it converts 35% more CO2 to Oxygen. Impressive isn’t it? We can breathe better and reverse Climate change if Western countries use tissues made from bamboo and not from trees.
  • Bamboo grows tremendously fast. Some species can grow an inch in just 40 minutes. They grow laterally too and quite rapidly.
  • Most importantly, they don’t require much water and care. Hence, they can be grown in arid zones. A full-fledged plantation can come up in just five years.
  • A less known fact about bamboo is its tensile strength. It is 2 to 3 times stronger than ordinary timber. It is heat resistant and houses with false roofing or wall paneling heat up less in summers. Thus, it dramatically reduces carbon emissions.

Many single or double-storeyed huts can thus be made just of bamboo. Wonder why the potential of bamboo is not being utilized by the building industry. At least in India.

How Can Bamboo Replace Plastic?

  • Bamboo can be used in the villages themselves, to make household items for use in kitchens, baskets, rollable curtains, barricades, and rural home furniture.
  • Bamboo shoot is a low-calorie, high protein, and high fiber food with numerous nutrients. Vinegar, pickles, and wine can also be made from bamboo.
  • Bamboos should be planted on river banks. Not only do their roots prevent flooding but they also reduce water pollution. They save soil. Are the followers of Sadhguru listening?
  • Bamboo-based mangrove rehabilitation has been done in parts of Mumbai. It is a cheaper and nature-based alternative as compared to sand dykes, currently in use. Mangroves, especially in the Sunderbans delta are under serious threat and need urgent management.
  • Bamboo groves also reduce air pollution. Rather than just villages, these can be planted in semi-urban areas as well as in urban housing societies. Ministry dealing with pollution can partly fund it.
  • Small scale industries should be created in the villages themselves for manufacturing incense sticks, bamboo jewelry, decorative and other items. These can be funded through the Khadi and Village Industries Commission, KVIC. Once the plantations pickup, bamboo can be supplied in bulk by a village cooperative similar to Amul. Even the private sector can take up the challenge if the land is provided to them.

Paper Industry

The best bond papers are made from bamboo. Toilet rolls are now widely being used in India. Currently, the raw material is trees. Rather than reducing our tree cover, bamboo should be utilized on a larger scale. The billion-dollar tissue and toilet roll industry needs to switch from trees to bamboos. R&D is already there and many countries are bulk producing for exports.


Bamboo is used in the Textile industry to make clothing. It is an excellent material to make lightweight bulletproof vests. Carry bags and diapers of bamboo fibers are also in use worldwide.

Construction / Interiors

Bamboo in various modes can is being used to make walls, floors, wall panels, and furniture.

Thermal Plants

They are dependent on coal which produces smoke and a lot of ash. This ash needs land mass to dispose of. Ash also causes soil pollution. If bamboo charcoal is used in place of coal, the ash produced will be 20 times less.

Hotels and Hospitality

Hotel and catering industry can benefit a lot by using bamboo cups, mugs, and cutlery.


Can be used for making Banslochan or Tabachir, a multi-use medication. Post-Covid, Bamboo Murabba is being extolled as an immunity booster. Both are available online.

Many other industries are now using bamboo in place of wood. Automobile, sports, electronics, fishing, and farming industries are using bamboo in their equipment. Bamboo toothbrushes were expensive earlier but are competitively priced now. Kitchen aids like chopping boards and so on are also being made from bamboo.


What is the Government Doing?

The government launched a National Bamboo Mission in 2018. It encourages a cluster-based approach. That is, subsidizing new bamboo plantations and manufacturing units of bamboo products in a particular district or region. Not only cash subsidies but the central government also provides free skill training to the interested local youth including females. It promotes the marketing of bamboo products by various means. Research and development in this field are also funded under this mission. Lastly, government support is given to micro, small and medium-sized bamboo industries.

A few years ago, the tax on bamboo transportation was a barrier to its utilization by all industries. It invited high taxes, as applicable to timber. The government of India removed bamboo from the timber list and now its transportation is easier and cheaper. So, now is the time to grow more bamboos and involve our migrant laborers who wish to stay at home, in this traditional venture.

Present Status

Major bamboo-producing states like Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Manipur are losing out on bamboo plantations. Farmers are switching over to crops that pay better. In some states, the small and medium-sized industries utilizing bamboo as raw material are pulling their shutters down. There is a need to place dynamic people in the bamboo mission and the PM to galvanise their efforts. The CMs of these states should monitor the stated principles of the mission and ensure that the funds, training efforts, and R&D are better utilised.

India, as of date produces 45% of the world’s bamboo but exports only 25% of bamboo-based products. This can increase if we, the common citizens encourage Indian-made bamboo products. The industrialists must do away with the imported stuff. So the next time we buy an agarbatti, let us confirm its origin.

Positive Development

Recently foundation for an Rs. 40 million Bamboo village was laid in Una, Himachal Pradesh. The village will have a Bamboo Oxygen park and a manufacturing hub for Bamboo products. Let’s hope this motivates the powers to be of other northern states of India to follow suit. This action gives a fillip to this fledgling mission which even has the potential to halt climate change.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

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By Major General Krishan Chauhan (AMC)

Maj Gen Krishan Chauhan (Retd) Army Medical Corps., is the alumni of Sainik School Kapurthala, IG Medical College Shimla and AFMC Pune. Part of PG Community Medicine. He is a fellow of the Indian Public Health Association. He was part of core groups in establishing ECHS and ACMS Delhi. He was Addl DGMS Army prior retirement.