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How Wood Fiber Could Resolve the Global Plastic Problem

How Wood Fiber Could Resolve the Global Plastic Problem

If you weren’t aware that our planet has a problem with plastic, consider the fact that every piece of plastic ever made could take hundreds of years to decompose. According to CBS News, if you were to put all that plastic end-to-end, it could go to the moon and back 30 times. Plastics are also derived from fossil fuels, a non-renewable resource, which increases mankind’s carbon footprint. For these reasons, a more environmentally-friendly replacement for plastic must be found and one solution lies in our forests.

Is there already a replacement for plastic?

Yes, at least to a certain extent. Plastic coffee cups, for instance, have been replaced in many locations by wood-based products without losing any of the container’s effectiveness. While it’s true that the lids of those containers are still plastic, researchers are enthusiastically experimenting with ways that these too can be replaced by something which is a wood-based product.

Injection molding with wood? 

This may sound strange, but plastic materials which have been used to make toys, toothbrushes, dish scrubbers, and toilet bowl cleaners might soon all be made with a wood-based product rather than with plastic. Already a process has been devised and tested which combines wood fibers with polymers, and is then reduced to tiny particles, to create a material which has the look and feel of wood, but which also has the flexibility and high performance of plastic. In addition to the smaller household items mentioned above, decking and furniture can also be produced with this composite, and even though it is still half-plastic, it represents a significant reduction of the amount of plastic used to create the products.

When will wood-based products become commonplace?

For the time being, some of the exciting processes described above may be only a little more advanced than the proof-of-concept stage, but there is little doubt that more and more wood-based products will begin to replace plastic and other fossil-fuel-based materials.

To produce wood-based materials on a larger scale some hurdles must be overcome, namely that production costs are comparable to that of plastics, so that the wood-based products will compete in the market. Every part of a tree is recyclable, even the residue left behind on machinery.

Nature’s Packaging is committed to the increased use of wood products, especially wood packaging, from sustainably managed forests.

Resources

Benefits of Community-based Natural Resource Management

Benefits of Community-based Natural Resource Management

It was in 1997 that the Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) project was established in Mozambique Africa, for the purpose of empowering local communities to assume some level of control over how their environments would be managed. This literally constituted a shift in power away from the central government, and into the hands of local authorities who are best equipped to maintain healthy natural resources and to make those resources sustainable indefinitely.

That first CBNRM conference brought together representatives from high levels of government, community members, and engineer types, who were all interested in preserving local environments. The discussions at that conference and in the four additional conferences since then, centered around how to deal with natural resources such as forests and wildlife, as well as developing or strengthening community-based organizations, and about how to add value to resources such as forest products.

Image Attribute: Image supplied by Flickr; Distributed under CC-BY 2.0 License

The most recent CBNRM conference

At the 2018 version of the CBNRM conference, it was recognized that even though the resolution was 20 years into its implementation, there was still a great deal of work to be done, and that there were still significant obstacles to achieving hoped-for results. For one thing, there are still disputes over the jurisdiction of communities, and that makes it extremely difficult to manage resources from those disputed areas. However, since most of these individual communities rely heavily on natural resources such as timber and wildlife, it is essential that all obstacles be overcome, so that communities can realize the benefits of CBNRM.

There are also conflicts over land rights, with various communities squabbling over ownership and spheres of interest. This is an extremely important point, since government agencies and donors have difficulty supporting community groups which compete for the same properties. This of course, creates a great deal of confusion about community rights to natural resources, and it causes a great deal of difficulty in sustaining those natural resources so they can be used to benefit local economies.

In an effort to help resolve some of the community conflicts, and to break up the logjam which has developed over land rights, the World Bank has stepped in to support local stakeholders and their governments. Through the Integrated Landscape and Forest Management Portfolio, a number of initiatives have been undertaken so that land rights can be resolved, land usage can be planned out into the future, reforestation can take place, land restoration can be initiated, and specific areas can be protected, while tourism is concurrently being promoted.

The future of CBNRM

There’s no question that Mozambique has yet to realize the full potential of CBNRM, but at the most recent conference, government leadership was at least made aware of the fact that local economies can be improved by transforming community development, and by protecting the natural resources associated with each community. While progress has been slow over the last 20 years, a new element of enthusiasm was very much in evidence at the most recent CBNRM conference, and it seems likely that participants will now be working together much more closely to achieve the maximum benefits under CBNRM.

Nature’s Packaging is committed to worldwide sustainable forest management practices. Forests sequester carbon from the atmosphere and when they’re sustainably managed, they’ll continue to provide valuable resources to local economies and help fight climate change.

Resources

Benefits of Community-based Natural Resource Management

Benefits of Community-based Natural Resource Management

It was in 1997 that the Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) project was established in Mozambique Africa, for the purpose of empowering local communities to assume some level of control over how their environments would be managed. This literally constituted a shift in power away from the central government, and into the hands of local authorities who are best equipped to maintain healthy natural resources and to make those resources sustainable indefinitely.

That first CBNRM conference brought together representatives from high levels of government, community members, and engineer types, who were all interested in preserving local environments. The discussions at that conference and in the four additional conferences since then, centered around how to deal with natural resources such as forests and wildlife, as well as developing or strengthening community-based organizations, and about how to add value to resources such as forest products.

Image supplied by Flickr; Distributed under CC-BY 2.0 License

The most recent CBNRM conference

At the 2018 version of the CBNRM conference, it was recognized that even though the resolution was 20 years into its implementation, there was still a great deal of work to be done, and that there were still significant obstacles to achieving hoped-for results. For one thing, there are still disputes over the jurisdiction of communities, and that makes it extremely difficult to manage resources from those disputed areas. However, since most of these individual communities rely heavily on natural resources such as timber and wildlife, it is essential that all obstacles be overcome, so that communities can realize the benefits of CBNRM.

There are also conflicts over land rights, with various communities squabbling over ownership and spheres of interest. This is an extremely important point, since government agencies and donors have difficulty supporting community groups which compete for the same properties. This of course, creates a great deal of confusion about community rights to natural resources, and it causes a great deal of difficulty in sustaining those natural resources so they can be used to benefit local economies.

Conflict resolution

In an effort to help resolve some of the community conflicts, and to break up the logjam which has developed over land rights, the World Bank has stepped in to support local stakeholders and their governments. Through the Integrated Landscape and Forest Management Portfolio, a number of initiatives have been undertaken so that land rights can be resolved, land usage can be planned out into the future, reforestation can take place, land restoration can be initiated, and specific areas can be protected, while tourism is concurrently being promoted.

The future of CBNRM

There’s no question that Mozambique has yet to realize the full potential of CBNRM, but at the most recent conference, government leadership was at least made aware of the fact that local economies can be improved by transforming community development, and by protecting the natural resources associated with each community. While progress has been slow over the last 20 years, a new element of enthusiasm was very much in evidence at the most recent CBNRM conference, and it seems likely that participants will now be working together much more closely to achieve the maximum benefits under CBNRM.

Nature’s Packaging is committed to worldwide sustainable forest management practices. Forests sequester carbon from the atmosphere and when they’re sustainably managed, they’ll continue to provide valuable resources to local economies and help fight climate change.

 

Resources

How Trees Sweat

How Trees Sweat

If Trees Had Sweating Glands to Cool Off From The Heat

During extreme heat waves it’s common for people to seek relief under the shade of a tree yet few of us wonder how trees themselves survive these extreme conditions. Researchers from the University of Western Sydney’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment grew trees under controlled climate conditions to see how trees survive these harsh conditions. They discovered that leaves have their own way to survive abnormal heat by releasing water to cool themselves off. This act is very similar to the way humans sweat in order to cool our body temperature.

Over the course of one year researchers learned that trees continuously expel water through leaves when under duress caused by extreme heat. Essentially, this is how trees survive heat waves. Before this was discovered, scientists thought that photosynthesis and water expulsion were merged processes, which means for one to happen, another also needed to happen. They learned this is not the case.

Although these trees were grown in artificial conditions, they provide accurate projections of how trees will respond during extremely hot weather conditions.  When trees under artificial conditions were exposed to the equivalent of a four day heat wave, during peak temperatures, trees stop sequestering carbon. On a larger scale, this means that forests, whether urban or rural, if exposed to extreme heat will stop sequestering carbon. Over time, if global temperatures continue to rise, this could have greater consequences on a forest’s ability to act as a carbon sink.

How Trees Cool Themselves

Under normal conditions, trees cool themselves by a process calls evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is the process of water evaporating from leaves when the sun’s rays hit the trees canopy. In some cases tree canopies can divert up to 60% of incoming radiation through this process. However, it can only happen when trees are healthy. If a tree is stressed due to drought or a beetle infestation then the process of evapotranspiration could be slowed or absent entirely.

In North America, more trees are planted than are harvested due to its high standards of sustainable forest management practices. When forests are healthy and sustainably managed they sequester carbon from the atmosphere to help lower global temperatures. Nature’s Packaging supports the use of sustainably sourced lumber used in wood packaging across North America.

References:

How do Trees Grow?

How do Trees Grow?

Wood is strong, flexible, and has been used in a variety of building applications for hundreds of years because it is safe and is a renewable resource. There are many external factors that can affect trees and thus the quality of lumber they produce.  These external factors can have significant impacts on the mechanical properties of wood and results in many dramatic changes such as a difference in density, growth rate, tree size and more.  Annual growth rings are the rings found inside the tree and these growth rings often give environmentalists the most clues as to what journey a tree experienced in its lifetime.

How do Trees Grow?

Trees grow in two directions. First, they grow upwards in order to absorb more sunlight. Then they grow outward to expand in diameter as the tree matures.  The upward and outer growth occurs at different times depending on the species of tree and the season.

The outer bark protects the tree from fluctuating temperatures, insects, diseases and is a tree’s first line of defense from its environment. When a tree is healthy then its bark remains intact, allowing the tree to defend itself from insect attacks such as the devastating mountain pine beetle epidemic.

Tree rings that are reflected in a cross-section of a tree are the lines that will reveal most about tree growth.  Each ring resembles one year of growth. They are created because trees grow faster during certain seasons and remain dormant during other seasons like winter.  These rings will differentiate in width depending on the environmental situation the tree experienced.  During heavy rainfall and good environmental conditions, the year rings will be much wider compared to drought seasons where the rings are much thinner.

In some cases, trees can take up to fifty years to reach maturity in order to be harvested for commercial use. As a tree grows it sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and that carbon is stored in the wood throughout its life cycle. The carbon forms long chains that are the backbone to cellulose, which is the primary component of lumber that helps make it a strong and durable material. Many of the products and resources we use every day arrive at our local grocery stores by means of a wood pallet. Wood pallets are a safe, durable, and sustainable way to transport goods and materials needed across the world.

References

A Quick Take on the Growth Cycle of Trees

A Quick Take on the Growth Cycle of Trees

Trees within forests are like wind and solar power in that they are a renewable resource. Whereas wind and solar energy can be regenerated relatively continuously, trees require more time to convert solar energy to wood so it can be utilized. In this article we’ll take a quick look at a tree’s growth cycle.

Tree seedlings will often wait for ideal environmental conditions to arise before sprouting.  Some species of tree seeds will remain intact for many years, waiting for the perfect environment, while others will only sprout under extreme conditions such as a forest fire. Only when the seeds are exposed to the right conditions will they sprout.

A seedling will appear above the ground and the first two leaves will start to absorb sunlight to provide energy for further growth. Seedlings will then start developing woody characteristics and will continue to grow and seek out the sun. Saplings are usually 1 – 4 inches in diameter and about 4.5 feet in height.  Many nurseries will sell saplings at this point in the tree’s growth cycle because they are capable of being transplanted with a high survival rate.

It is during the early growth phases of a tree’s life that it absorbs the most amount of carbon. During the process of photosynthesis, young trees convert carbon dioxide to breathable oxygen and use the carbon internally for growth. When hundreds of thousands of trees within a forest complete this process simultaneously, they fight global warming by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

About half of any given piece of lumber’s net weight is carbon that was sequestered from the atmosphere and lumber will continue to store that carbon until it naturally disintegrates or is burned for energy. No part of a tree goes to waste! The bark and branches are used for supplies like garden mulch and animal bedding whereas the lower quality of lumber from a tree is used to make wood pallets. According to the research article “Pallet Re-Use and Recycling Saves High Value Material from Landfills,” there are about 4 billion wood pallets in circulation just in the United States. Wood pallets have been used for decades and have established themselves as the safest and most reliable way to transport goods and services while storing carbon sequestered from the atmosphere.

References

How Foresters Limit Their Carbon Footprint

How Foresters Limit Their Carbon Footprint

Forests absorb airborne carbon dioxide, store carbon in wood, and return pure fresh oxygen to the atmosphere. As that process continues, though, gases in the atmosphere absorb the planet’s heat and radiate it in all directions. When that heat cannot escape Earth’s atmosphere, the planet’s temperature warms.

Photograph by Flickr, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Photograph by Flickr, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Scientists estimate that nature is only able to remove about half of all carbon dioxide added to the environment. The good news is that forests, particularly those in North America, are continuously pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it in solid wood. Because these forests are growing more than is being harvested, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that U.S. forests currently serve as a carbon ‘sink’, offsetting approximately 13% of U.S. emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Canadian Harvesting Practices

Wood products harvested from forests continue to store carbon throughout their use. According to the Canadian Climate Forum’s Issue Paper #4 from Fall 2015, Canadian timber harvesting practices emit minimal greenhouse gases. Improvements are continually being made to the industry’s lumber manufacturing practices to reduces its carbon footprint.

Energy and greenhouse gas emissions to produce forest products are less than materials wood often replaces, such as metals, concrete and plastic. Canada’s forest products industry has been a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its manufacturing processes. Since 1990, the pulp and paper industry in Canada has reduced emissions by about 65%. This has been accomplished by replacing fossil fuels used for mill processes with low net-carbon emissions energy generated by burning wood residues once disposed of by burning without energy recovery.

U.S. Harvesting Practices

The United States has about 751 million acres of forest area, equal to about one third of the country’s total land area. According to the 2010 National Report on Sustainable Forests, forty-four percent of United States forests are owned by local, state, or national governments and the rest are owned by private land owners. Sierra Pacific Industries, a forest products company, is one of the largest private land owners in the country, and is typical of how landowners approach sustainability. Regarding how their land is managed, Mark Pawlicki, the Director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability for Sierra Pacific Industries, states,

“Sierra Pacific manages its forest lands on a sustainable basis. In California, we operate under the state’s rigid Forest Practices Act and Forest Practice Rules which require large timberland owners to not harvest more than they grow. In both California and Washington timber harvests are conducted only after a review and approval by state regulatory agencies. In addition, all of SPI’s 1.9 million acres of forests are certified under the independent Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which ensures that we are managing our lands on a sustainable basis for wood products, wildlife habitat, water quality, and other environmental attributes.”

Forest Certification

Voluntary third-party forest certification began in the 1990s in response to market concerns about forest management and illegal logging, primarily in developing countries. Other widely used forest certification programs in North America are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programmme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. Programs like these are all designed to assure consumers that the wood products they purchase have been produced sustainably. They are also assured that these forests are doing their part to offset fossil fuel carbon emissions.

Resources

 

This is the second of a five-part series on forests and climate change.

Previous: The Carbon Cycle

Coming Next:

  • How Non-Profit Forest Certification Programs Were Born
  • REDD+ and UN-REDD
  • The Future of Forestry

Successes of the Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol

This month marks the 26th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, one of the most successful international treaties that has, among other things, reduced the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. Forests are also critical in meeting the challenge of total emissions reductions through their ability to act as carbon sinks and safely remove carbon dioxide, CO2, from the atmosphere. Trees help the planet by absorbing carbon dioxide. They release the oxygen back into the environment and use the carbon internally, to produce sugars for growth. Trees continue to store carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere for the duration of its use, and those benefits are extended when those wood products are recycled time and time again. For more resources on the sustainability of North American forests, visit the reference section at the bottom of this page.

History

The ozone layer acts as a shield to protect Earth and all the plants and animals within it from ultraviolet radiation. In the 1970’s, scientists learned that chlorofluorocarbons, or CFC’s, had been migrating to the upper atmosphere, depleting the ozone layer.

Photo attribute: Photograph by NASA, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Photo attribute: Photograph by NASA, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

The scientists involved in the initial discovery, Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland, went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work concerning the formation and depletion of the ozone layer. However, during the 1970’s, CFC’s were commonly found in household products like hairspray and deodorant. Years later in 1985, scientists discovered that the Antarctic ozone hole, a layer of ozone above the Antarctic, had been shrinking at higher rates than they originally calculated and it was proved that the widespread use of CFC’s had caused it. The international community responded with the Montreal Protocol to eliminate the production and sale of ozone-harming substances.

According to the United Nation’s Environment Programme, below are some of the successes of the Montreal Protocol

  • The ozone layer is recovering. It should return to pre-1980 levels by the middle of the century
  • It has helped the global community avoid millions of cases of fatal and non-fatal skin cancer, and cataracts
  • As of 2010, the consumption and production of ozone depleting substances has stopped
  • It became the first treaty to be universally ratified

Paris Agreement of 2015

Since CFC’s and other ozone depleting substances are also global warming gasses, the reduction of one helped reduce the other. However, there’s still work to be done. Scientists estimate that the size of the Arctic ozone hole won’t return to pre-1970 levels until the middle of the 21st century, so the full impact of the Montreal Protocol might not be realized for at least another forty years. Moreover, the planet is still warming. At the Paris Climate Conference in December of 2015, 195 countries agreed to a global action plan that will limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. This historic breakthrough is the result of nine years of United Nations diplomats working together to stop global warming, requiring action from all countries. In an interview, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said, “For the first time, we have a truly universal agreement on climate change, one of the most crucial problems on earth.”

Resources

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