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Ancient material finding its way into modern life

Updated: 2013-05-05 08:33
By Erik Nilsson in Lin'an county, Zhejiang ( China Daily)

Most people think of buildings, flooring and food when they think of things made of bamboo.

But a growing number of companies like Hangzhou Zen Bamboo Hardwood Production Co Ltd manufacture a wide spectrum of products most wouldn't associate with what is hailed as "the next super material".

They include calculators, iPad cases, surfboards, radios, skis, cellphone covers, clocks, toothbrushes, cups, tissue boxes, eyeglasses frames and refrigerators.

Zen Bamboo produces more than 200 items.

"In the future, we'll make even more things with bamboo than we do now," founder Zhao Zhengzhi says.

"These are modern takes on a traditional material."

His company is working toward making bamboo into airplane and car exteriors, Nike shoe linings and bicycle frames, he says.

Zhao spent 25 years as an optometry research and development expert before starting his company in 2000 to produce bamboo flooring.

He started making other daily products in 2008.

"I found some foreigners who'd bought my flooring liked everything made out of bamboo," he says.

"So, I thought I should make everything out of bamboo."

He started with stationery and still provides the bamboo notebooks used in the local Party congresses - engraved with a hammer and sickle, of course.

"Now, we're making more innovative items, like iPad and iPhone covers," he says.

"Everyone uses these things."

His most popular exports are thermos covers sold to the US and cups sold to Japan. Bamboo insulates li-quids and protects users hands from heat, he says. Bamboo iPhone covers also cool the phones, which become hot from use.

Most of the 80 employees of his 100-sq-m workshop were farmers.

"Now, they don't need to plant bamboo to eat but can instead make things out of it," he says.

"Almost anything you make out of plastic, you can make out of bamboo. It has a different feeling than plastic, which is so sterile."

Zen Bamboo's sales manager Yao Sihua points out bamboo is also more durable. But its weakness, he says, is that it can crack.

And it costs one-third more than plastic, Yao says.

"The price probably won't go down," he explains. "It's mostly old people who grow it. Young people would rather work in the cities. So, the price might double or triple in the coming years, as there are fewer people to grow and harvest bamboo."

But for now, the world's fastest-growing plant is producing a rapidly developing industry based in China.