CHENGDU, March 15 (Xinhua) -- The bamboo that grows in southwest China's Sichuan Province is famous for being pandas' favorite food, but humans have increasingly turned to the plant for toilet paper and paper towels.
Last year, Sichuan produced 1.1 million tonnes of household paper from bamboo, equivalent to about one-tenth of China's total paper production for household purposes, according to the Sichuan Paper Association.
With moist air and fertile soil, Sichuan has been a paradise for bamboo groves. The province is home to over 1.1 million hectares of bamboo forests, about 70 percent of which can be used to make bamboo pulp and paper. Making paper from bamboo can reduce the logging of traditional pulpwood such as fir trees, pine trees and cottonwood.
"China lacks forest and timber resources, but is rich in bamboo. Expanding the use of bamboo is important to promote the paper-making industry," said Wu Hejun, chairman of Sichuan Yong Feng Paper Industrial Co.
"Toilet paper, napkins and facial tissue made with bamboo pulp are soft yet strong and bacteriostatic, so they are quite popular on the market," Wu said.
The success of bamboo paper in recent years has been partly due to pandas, Sichuan's most famous residents.
By using bamboo fibers in the animal's feces and food debris,"panda poop" paper products, usually adorned with pictures of the black and white bear, became online best-sellers last year.
A roll of toilet paper made from panda excrement sells for 25 yuan (4 U.S. dollars) on Taobao, while three boxes of paper napkins cost 129 yuan.
Pandas have become brand ambassadors for bamboo paper products, driving up sales and promoting the notion that the paper is good and green.
Last November, sales revenue of bamboo paper manufactured by Sichuan Qianwei Fengsheng Paper Company, producer of the panda poop paper, surpassed 3 million yuan within three hours on Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com.
In the first two months of 2018, the company's sales volume surged by 50 percent to 110 million yuan, compared with last year.
"To a resource-dependent company like us, the bamboo pulp paper industry is green, ecological and sustainable. It will not damage the environment but promote it," Yang Chaolin, president of the company said.
Yang added that bamboo usually has a lifespan of 50 to 100 years and can only continue to grow when people cut down the old bamboo, and it grows much faster than traditional pulpwood.
China is a big paper user and producer. According to the China Paper Association, China produced 9.2 million tonnes of household paper in 2016, up 4 percent from a year ago. Consumption of household paper during the same period was 8.5 million tonnes, a yearly increase of 4.5 percent.
The process of traditional paper-making often consumes a huge amount of water with chemicals and bleach, posing a threat to the environment.
"Natural color bamboo paper doesn't need to be bleached, so it uses fewer chemical products during the production process," said Zhou Xiang, general manager of Yashi Paper.
The rise in bamboo paper sales also benefits local farmers. Wang Wen, 43, is one of 38,000 bamboo farmers in Muchuan County, which boasts 533,000 hectares of bamboo forest.
"Bamboo was sold at just 50 yuan per tonne in the 1990s. Now it has soared to 600 yuan," he said. Now one-third of farmers' annual income in the county comes from bamboo.
A new road leading to his bamboo forest has just been finished, helping him transport the crop out.
"I hope to expand my bamboo forest in the coming years to make more money," he said.