When I meet someone for the first time, the usual question arises: “what do you do for work?” I proudly tell them that I own an eco-friendly jewellery business. Immediately, their eyes dart all over my body, first my neckline, then my ears and finally to my hands. I know what they are doing; they are looking for precious metal jewellery. It’s understandable, it’s what more people associate the word “jewellery” with.
I kindly tell them that I make jewellery from bamboo as it is an alternative to mainstream precious metal. They are often surprised, then delighted that I am taking such a ’unique’ approach. Unique, perhaps, but as we become more aware of our ecological impact I think we will see the rise of bamboo in the future of our everyday lives.
As an eco-conscious consumer, the use of bamboo in the manufacturing of jewellery over previous metals was a bit of a no-brainer for me!
If we look at the production of precious metal jewellery, the problem lies with the way the metal is extracted from the earth. In order to obtain those shiny metals of gold, silver, platinum, white gold and gemstones the land must be mined. As we know, mining of the earth does a pretty good job at destroying the natural landscape and removing all animals and plants living in the area. Natural biodiversity is ultimately lost - even if the area is rehabilitated after the mining period is completed, it is often difficult to restore the land to the ecologically-biodiverse level it sustained for hundreds, if not thousands, of years prior to mining.
In addition to this, the process of mining creates its own chemical pollutants. In the United States alone, where 80% of gold mined is used for jewellery, Toxipedia has reported that “96 percent of all reported arsenic emissions, and 76 percent of all lead emissions in the United States are from metal mines”.
There are many positive environmental reasons why bamboo is an excellent alternative to precious metals and gemstones. Unlike mining, the biodiversity of the area where the bamboo is grown is not affected by production.
Contrary to popular thought, bamboo is not actually a wood; ecologically speaking it’s a grass. Being a grass it can be harvested and yep, you guessed it – it will grow back, time and time again, because it has a number of root systems (also known as ‘running bamboo’) which will shoot new bamboo year after year. The culms (the stems or trunks) can be harvested after four or five years. If not harvested, the culms will fall, die and eventually rot in the forest, only to release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Harvesting the bamboo while it’s still healthy ensures that the carbon content is captured and stored.
My favourite fact about bamboo is that it has no living pests and therefore needs no pesticides (or fertilisers!) to maintain a healthy and happy crop. The Guinness Book of Records has even recorded bamboo as the fastest growing plant. It has been recorded as growing a whopping 91 cm (35 in) in one day!
The bamboo used in One Happy Leaf jewellery is sourced from a section of China’s 12 million hectares of bamboo forest. The forest is broken into plantations and leased by various companies. We only use bamboo from one particular plantation in our eco-friendly jewellery. The species of bamboo we use is Phyllostachys pubescens, Moso Bamboo. This bamboo is not panda food, so rest assured that no pandas are going hungry in the making of your jewellery!
So you can see why bamboo is a better alternative to using previous metals in jewellery.
Now, it’s about changing our mindsets; as the saying goes, “when we know better, we do better”. Based on tradition and culture, precious metal jewellery will always have a place in our world too; but perhaps our beliefs needs to change as to whether it should remain mainstream. Do we really need another diamond ring or necklace? Or is it time we questioned our traditions, our habits, and armed with the knowledge we now have, look for beautiful, sustainable alternatives?
Tell me your thoughts below – do you think it’s time for a change?