Do you know that September 18 is World Bamboo Day? This is a day of celebration to increase the awareness of bamboo globally. [1]

Bamboo is a fast-growing plant and renewable material. Over a thousand species have been  discovered worldwide, particularly in the tropical regions of Asia, Latin America and Africa[2]. Within these areas, bamboo has traditionally been used for various purposes as a water transport vehicle, a residence, furniture, an agricultural tool, a fishing tool, food packaging and even for consumption (bamboo shoot). However, many of these untreated bamboo products do not last long due to their short service life (4-7 years)[3]. During the past two decades, bamboo utilisation has been rising because of the increasing interest in the Western European market. However, due to some chemical treatment during its production, there are concerns that bamboo products are not really ‘eco-friendly’. Thus, many research studies attempted to seek clearance on how to extend bamboo’s service life as well as find ways to improve its production processes including material preparation.

Bamboo treatment (material preservation) [4]

This natural material can generally be harmed by fungi, borer and termites; thus, several chemical treatments (e.g. arsenic, boron, copper and chrome), have been introduced as a cheap and effective method for large-scale preservation and extension of bamboo lifespan. Various traditional non-chemical treatments such as lime washing, smoke treatment and water leaching methods have been applied to prevent fungal attacks. Recently, studies have confirmed that these traditional treatments such as the water leaching method can provide decay resistance to bamboo culms almost the same as chemical treatments.

Therefore, sometimes, a right answer for the sustainable resource consumption might already be there, only needing the scientific confirmation.

Bamboo culm

Bamboo culm or stem has regularly been used for construction purposes in local areas; however, its utilisation in Europe has been questioned. To answer this question, a case study in the Netherlands was conducted by Delft University of Technology to investigate the use of bamboo culm as a temporary building material  (such as pavilions and tents) [2]. It was discovered that the environmental and financial performance of bamboo is comparable to commonly used material such as Azobe wood, Robinia wood, steel and concrete. Moreover, the result of the environmental assessment showed that the environmental load that was caused from bamboo use in this project was mainly from sea transportation between Costa Rica and the Netherlands. Similarly, another study also highlighted that the utilisation of ‘Plybamboo’ (for flooring or tabletops) in Europe has a higher Eco-cost (due to transport) than local Plywood[5]. Despite the fact that bamboo culm itself is proven to be more eco-friendly than other options, due to transportation burdens it might be better to limit its use in its original land.

Bamboo fibre[6]

Bamboo fibre has become more popular in the textile business since the publication of reports that serviceability and quality (i.e. air-permeable, moisture absorbent, antibacterial and comfy) of bamboo fibres are comparable to cotton. At the same time, regarding sustainability awareness, the issue of the environmentally-unfriendly bamboo fibre production process has also been widely mentioned. This is why many have attempted to find eco-friendlier methods for bamboo fibre production.      

Mechanical treatment

This treatment method is the traditional method adopted locally for a long time. Bamboo strips are soaked in water for 3-7 days or boiled (at 90°C) for 10-15 hours. Then, they are crushed, scrapped and combed repeatedly into fibres. However, this method is extremely time-consuming and labour intensive.

Chemical treatment

Chemical treatment is preferable in businesses because this inexpensive method is faster and easier for controlling fibre properties. Although the chemicals are used in fibre treatment only in small amounts, health issues for production workers have been a concern because of corrosive chemicals used during the fibre production process. The often-used compounds are:

  • Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)
  • Sodium hydroxide (NaOH)
  • Sodium triphosphate (Na5P3O10)
  • Sodium sulphate (Na2SO4)
  • Sodium carbonate (Na2CO3)
  • Sodium hydrogen phosphate (Na2HPO4)
  • Sodium silicate (Na2SiO3)
  • Sodium citrate (C6H5Na3O7)

Through this chemical treatment, it should be noted that “the important properties of bamboo, such as antibacterial properties, strength, and UV protection, cannot be retained” [6].

Biological/enzymatic treatments

This treatment has been researched and developed to find an eco-friendly method for bamboo fibre extraction. Various enzymes (i.e. cellulase, pectinase, xylanase, and lignin-oxidising enzymes) which are commonly used for other fibres have been studied and tested in the retting process. This eco-friendly treatment is however a very time-consuming process and is not economically feasible.

Combined treatments

A mix of chemical, enzymatic and mechanical processes have been found to be effective in fibre production and more environmentally-friendly than chemical treatment alone.

Bamboo as Bio-material and Biofuel

Apart from the uses above, another group of researchers are currently trying to use bamboo hemicelluloses as (1) bio-material (for applications such tissue engineering, drug delivery and food packaging), and as (2) biofuel and food. However, in order to get economic subsidies and support from governments, extraction processes at industrial scale need to be improved) [7].

To this end, bamboo should be considered as another multifunctional material regarding its numerous advantages. Importantly, the bamboo forest has been reported as another valuable and potential carbon sink for mitigating climate change[8]. Therefore, similar to all other resources, it depends on how much we know about them and how well we manage and preserve them.

[1]          World Bamboo Organisation, “World Bamboo Day,”, 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 08-Aug-2018].
[2]          P. van der Lugt, A. A. J. F. van den Dobbelsteen, and J. J. A. Janssen, “An environmental, economic and practical assessment of bamboo as a building material for supporting structures,” Constr. Build. Mater., vol. 20, no. 9, pp. 648–656, 2006.
[3]          Kerala Forest Research Institute, “Preservative treatment of bamboo and bamboo products.” Kerala Forest Research Institute, Kerala, India, 2002.
[4]          P. Dua, V. Kardam, K. Pant, S.Satya, and S. Naik, “Scientific Investigation of Traditional Water Leaching Method for Bamboo Preservation,” Bamboo Sci. Cult. J. Am. Bamboo Soc., vol. 26, p. 2013, 2013.
[5]          J. Vogtländer, P. Van Der Lugt, and H. Brezet, “The sustainability of bamboo products for local and Western European applications. LCAs and land-use,” J. Clean. Prod., vol. 18, no. 13, pp. 1260–1269, 2010.
[6]          B. P. Rocky and A. J. Thompson, “Production of natural bamboo fibres-1: experimental approaches to different processes and analyses,” J. Text. Inst., vol. 5000, pp. 1–11, 2018.
[7]          P. Peng and D. She, “Isolation, structural characterisation, and potential applications of hemicelluloses from bamboo: A review,” Carbohydr. Polym., vol. 112, pp. 701–720, 2014.
[8]          J. Q. Yuen, T. Fung, and A. D. Ziegler, “Carbon stocks in bamboo ecosystems worldwide: Estimates and uncertainties,” For. Ecol. Manage., vol. 393, pp. 113–138, 2017.
Posted on 04 October 2018 By Pasuree Lumsakul

NHS funds; in the bin, down the sink and flushed away  

Around 2.7 million prescription items are dispensed daily in the UK, an average of 18.7 items per person per year [1]. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that only 50% of people follow their prescriptions correctly [2], through non-adherence, lack of compliance or other factors, meaning that medication is often left unused. The result is that the NHS spends an estimated £300 million a year on unused medication [3], of which half is believed to be avoidable.

Given this national problem, a current research project within the Centre for SMART is investigating solutions for preventing overprescribing and underusing of prescription items within the UK.

As part of the current investigation, a public survey was conducted to better understand ordering habits, reasons for unused medication and current attitudes towards disposal. The survey revealed that the main reasons for unused medication were; the medication going out of date, the patient’s medication changing, patients choosing to stop taking items or patients recovering from ailments. Overall the survey showed that there is a need to assess patients’ requirements more regularly without adding cost and inconvenience to the NHS.

Over prescribing can cause an increase of waste; patients may over order items with a ‘just in case’ attitude, or automatically reorder all items on repeat without checking if they finished the previous batch. One survey stated; “When medication is relied upon, a user has no choice but to stockpile for their own safety,” indicating that the issue may not solely be user oriented, but rather an undesirable feature of the current system. This ‘rainy day’ attitude of the public can lead to stockpiling prescription items, which eventually have to be disposed of, creating a problem in its own right. Incorrect disposal can lead to a wide array of environmental issues. Discarding unused medication down the drain or toilet can contaminate local water, as the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) can pass through the filters at waste water treatment plants (WWTPs) [4].

Furthermore, discarding through general waste can lead to issues such as accidental consumption by children or wildlife, may lead to people raiding the waste streams to sell on the drugs illegally and landfill leaching can contaminate the water system. [5]

Returning unused medication to pharmacy is considered best practice within the UK, and often seen as the environmentally conscious approach. However with a lack of high temperature incinerators in the UK, the unused medication often travels long distances to be destroyed [6]. Compounding the matter, incineration of medical waste can produce highly toxic chemicals [7], with costs of disposal escalating up to £1,900 per tonne. [8]

This overall problem has not gone unnoticed; the Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) of the NHS, aims to deliver high quality and improved public health without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage [10] and their future plans seek to minimise waste resulting from unused medication, by improving repeat dispensing and encouraging cost effective prescribing.

The problem is complex and any potential solutions are, as yet, unclear. What is for certain is that, confusion over the correct method of disposal, along with consistent over dispensing and underusing of pharmaceutical items within the UK is generating harmful waste, whilst depleting scarce NHS funds.





Posted on 30 August 2018 By Jordanna Marsh
Sustainable Tourism
In this latest blog, we take a look at what it means to travel sustainably, providing some top tips and leading sustainable destinations!
International tourist arrivals have increased from 25 million globally in 1950, to 278 million in 1980, 527 million in 1995, 1.32 billion in 2017 and are expected to reach 1.8 billion by 2030. At the same time:
Thousands of people may arrive in a tourist destination every day, and this destination may lack any proper recycling facilities.
Although there are hotels that are recycling water, they still have to use millions of litres of potable water per year being, at the same time, often located in water scarce regions.
Beef consumption is the most water-consumptive practice by travelers.
This is compounded by the fact that, every year, 40 million tons of carbon pollution is dumped into the atmosphere, and, although 70% of the earth’s surface is water, only 3% is potable. Even though the above may not be solely related to tourist activities, tourist activities do contribute to all of them. The way regions and countries develop their tourism industry does produce significant impacts on natural resources, consumption patterns, pollution and social systems. This has led to a growing interest in sustainable (or responsible) tourism, defined as “tourism that respects both local people and the traveller, cultural heritage and the environment”. It seeks to provide people with an exciting and educational holiday that is also of benefit to the people of the host country. Sustainable tourism is all about small things prospective tourists can do to make their holiday more eco-friendly. Here are some of our top tips:
Plastics: carry and use your own cloth bag each time you go shopping or select a plastic re-usable bag and use it until worn out; avoid buying plastic bottles of water, in particular in countries where there is no way of disposing of them, by bringing your own bottle with you after having removed all packaging and have left it back home (but always consider purifying water before you consume it); avoid using disposable utensils, etc.
Packaging: give preference to products with minimal or no packaging at all.
Waste: This goes without saying: do not litter and try to avoid excessive waste, and recycle where possible.
Water Conservation: Take quick showers using as little water as possible, use kettles and pans of the right size to avoid excessive cooking water, and avoid using hotel laundry (they typically wash clothes per guest separately), etc. 
Local Economy: It is really important to support the local economy wherever possible by buying local produce or souvenirs, eating at local restaurants and, if possible, selecting organic food 
Responsible Travel: Travelling can be made much more sustainable via a number of small changes. Whilst flying is often unavoidable, it is easy to prioritise airlines which offer carbon offsetting. When you arrive at your destination, try to use public transport whenever possible and ideally cycle or walk. After all, one of the main reasons for visiting exotic holiday destinations is to soak up the incredible landscapes available! If you have to use a car, try to cluster activities into only one trip by car instead of multiple errands. Avoid using congested routes and if possible rent a hybrid or electric car. 
Sustainability Credentials: support travel providers and organizations who support sustainable tourism; ask about accommodation providers’ sustainable practices (do they: compost? have low-flow toilets? have a recycling program? harvest any rainwater? consume any renewable energy? support fair trade? have a well-defined environmental policy? etc. In particular in the UK, look for hotels approved by the Green Tourism Business Scheme (,
Sustainable tourism got your attention? If so why not check out our favorite top 5 UK sustainable holiday destinations!
Loveland Farm, Devon: their own vegetables, their own organic meat, award-winning compost loos and the campsite’s energy is being sourced from a recycled woodchip 110 kW biomass boiler and 5 kW solar panels. 
St Cuthbert’s House, Northumberland: support of the local industry to help and sustain local economy (e.g. food, art). 
Bangor’s Organic, Cornwall: an 11 kW wind turbine to generate electricity to the house, organic produce and breakfasts, a free hook-up for electric cars, all in a Soil Association certified bed and breakfast. 
Argyll Hotel, Island of Iona: ethical business with limited impact on the Iona environment ensuring at the same time that the latter will remain intact for the next generations. 
Calgary Self Catering, Calgary Bay: a Green Tourism Gold Award holder that recycles its waste, sources sustainable energy, and keeps their impact on nature to a minimum. 
Posted on 02 May 2018 By George Skouteris