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Bamboo Growing Among Paper Manufactures

As part of a larger sustainability effort, Kimberly-Clark, the parent company behind Kleenex, Cottonelle, and Scott Tissue, recently partnered with Mount Vernon, Washington bamboo grower Booshoot, in order to develop toilet tissue that consists of 20 percent bamboo fiber.  The project says much about the valuable commitments of corporations in the modern world, the versatility of bamboo, and the future of the crop in America and throughout the world.

The fact that the world’s largest toilet tissue manufacturer would seek out bamboo as a supplementary material for their products goes to show how diverse that resource’s uses are.  In its natural state, it is strong enough to be used in building construction, but properly processed, it is soft enough to be used for bath tissue, or for clothing, linens, and towels.  Along with the benefit of sustainability, that is presumably why Kimberly-Clark has already been selling 10 percent bamboo bath tissue in the United Kingdom.

In that case, however, the bamboo is being imported from China.  The ecological benefits are mitigated by the carbon footprint associated with such long-distance transportation.  This may not always be the case.  We’ve reported on the growth of bamboo in Scotland, which goes to show that it’s possible to develop local sources for that resource in most any market.  That certainly will be the case for Kimberly-Clark’s North American production, since Booshoot is fully equipped to provide sufficient bamboo for such large-scale producers.

The Washington area company already produces some ten million bamboo plants each year.  The usual challenge with bamboo consists of establishing the crop in the first place.  It takes years to progress from seedling to maturity, but once it reaches that point its growth rate and regeneration after harvest tend to make the payoff well worth the investment.  But Booshoot has overcome the initial drawback by pioneering a process for creating new plants from clippings of mature bamboo.  Their work is similar to research that we reported as coming out of India last autumn.

With the help of this process, which produces usable bamboo in only five or six months, Booshoot founder and CEO Jackie Heinricher hopes to make headway into the forestry market.  The plants from her Mount Vernon greenhouse could create the basis for bamboo growing operations in the American Southeast, which is especially suitable for the crop and which is already the location of 30 million acres of pine trees that provide much of the pulp and paper needed for the US market.

Booshoot’s quick establishment of massive quantities of domestic bamboo promises to create a sustainable supply chain for American companies if Kimberly-Clark’s agreement with them sets the stage for other such investments.  The bath tissue manufacturer, for its part, intends to reduce its use of wood fiber by half in the next twelve years or so.  In the most recent year, it consumed 750,000 metric tons.

With more awareness of ecological concerns and a rising tide of consumer demands, this trajectory towards sustainability can be expected to continue not just for Kimberly-Clark but for many other large corporations as well.  As it does, the resources and entrepreneurs that will make that transition possible are already taking their places in the American market.


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