Bamboo paper... vegan yes, but is it a friend to the Earth?
As a vegan and an environmentalist, and often an artist with customers who have similar values to me, I am always trying to improve the earth and animal-loving vibes of my materials, trying to find a way for my products to be both vegan and eco-friendly. This can be surprisingly hard, as you can find out below.
At the moment, I use a wonderful print company in Essex who print on bamboo paper from Hahnemühle and produce wonderfully high quality pieces. Let's take a look at arguments for and against this particular bamboo paper.
1) It is vegan. It does not use size* derived from animal products.
*Sizing or size is any one of numerous specific substances that is applied to or incorporated in other material, especially papers or textiles, to act as a protecting filler or glaze - referenced from wiki page.
2) It is made of what is touted to be a much more eco-friendly and sustainable product.
3) The print quality is great and looks beautiful when finished (this is a giclee print - giclee printing to be explored later!).
However, having done a bit more research (I have to be honest, they had me at vegan when I first discovered the paper), I'm not so sure about the ethics of this particular approach to printing my art.
1) Have you seen much bamboo in the UK? Nope. A little bit here and there, but let's be honest, bamboo doesn't thrive on these cool, cloud-covered isles. It prefers 'warm temperate, tropical climates' (find out more here). There are some questions over the ethics of transporting bamboo from places as far reaching as China and Thailand, and whether the environmental cost of transport outweighs the ecological benefits. However, examiner.com argues that since ships bringing goods from China emit considerably less carbon dioxide mile on mile than trucks transporting locally sourced materially, the answer may not be as obvious as I would like it to be.
2) It's also important to think about the production of bamboo paper and fabrics. Because of where it is produced, there is no guarantee that the working conditions of factory workers is closely-regulated (an ongoing issue, one that goes well beyond choosing which paper to print on), bamboo products are often bound with formaldehyde, which can cause health problems for those working around them, as well as polluting the environment they are produced in.
3) Bamboo matures much faster than it's woody counterparts, but it still causes the same environmental issues if it is removed from it's environment, such as soil erosion and flooding. An ethical bamboo product would require well thought out growing regulations. Therefore, is it better to opt for recycled materials that will not be missed and have already found their place in the world of human consumption?
This is just a brief and personal exploration of this topic. I don't claim to be an expert and I certainly feel that more research is necessary.
Part of me feels that the closer to home your materials are sourced from, the better, and this leads me to question whether my business' relationship with bamboo paper can continue.
Ideally, I'd love to find a recycled material that is locally sourced, not bound with animal by-products, ecologically friendly, and also stocked by a high-quality print company who use vegetable inks. Not too much to ask, is it?
Watch this space, and please, feel free to share any ideas on the topic!