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Turning Wood Scrap into Useful Adhesive Tape

Turning Wood Scrap into Useful Adhesive Tape

Adhesive tape is generally made from petroleum-based products, but engineers working at the University of Delaware have figured out a way to use wood-based products to make adhesive tape of comparable quality, by using a throwaway component of processed wood. Paper manufacturers usually just discard lignin, since it has no value in the paper-making process, so until now it has generally ended up in landfills, or it has been burned as a heat source. Lignin is an inexpensive material which is very plentiful and sustainable, so it provides scientists with a perfect opportunity to create a useful product by recycling one which previously had little value.

Image Attribute: Image sourced from Flickr; distributed under CC-BY 2.0 License

How it Works

Lignin is itself a natural polymer, and it shares some physical properties with the petroleum-based polymers which are currently used to make adhesive tape, and many other products as well. Since it has this similar molecular structure, scientists theorized that it could be used make some of the same products that petroleum derivatives are used for. To prove their theory, they had to find a way to systematically break down the lignin, which is extremely tough, because its chemical structure is very complicated.

After a little trial and error, scientists found a way to break down lignin using a commercially available catalyst, and once they had isolated the polymers in lignin, it was only a matter of creating new and useful polymers. The entire process consisted of a series of steps which called for separation, purifying, recombining into new polymers, and characterizing the new polymers, in order to create wood-based versions of commercially used products. During testing of their new wood-based adhesive tape, researchers found that it was just as sticky as some of the most popular brands of adhesive tape on the market today, without any additives being included in the development process.

Other possibilities

The University of Delaware engineers used lignin from poplar trees throughout all of their experimentation, but it was always apparent that using lignin from other trees as well could produce a wider range of other products. Even limiting tree selection to those which have high lignin content, there are still many tree types suitable for creating products which rival petroleum-based versions.

Of course, this is a highly desirable outcome, since trees are a renewable source whereas fossil fuels are not, and the wood-based versions are also much friendlier to the environment. Scientists fully expect to be able to produce other kinds of tapes such as electrical tape, duct tape, bandages, and sticky notes, but there is optimism about creating a whole new range of products as well.

For instance, products like seals, gaskets, rubber bands, O-rings, and even tires for automobiles are within the realm of possibility for wood-based versions to be manufactured. What chemical engineering has achieved so far using a discarded component of paper and pulp processing, has been remarkable, and it is highly likely that even greater accomplishments are on the horizon.

Nature’s Packaging is committed to the increased use of wood products, especially wood packaging, from sustainably managed forests. Forests sequester carbon from the atmosphere and this helps reverse the impact of climate change. Wood products are recyclable and continue to store carbon throughout their life cycle.

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How Forest Certification Non-Profits Were Born

How Forest Certification Non-Profits Were Born

In 1992 the United Nations met in Rio de Janiero in what’s now known as the Earth Summit. At this meeting, 172 governments participated to discuss continuing effects of climate change and how to stop it. One of the non-legally binding documents created from this event, Agenda 21, made several recommendations regarding the need for sustainable forestry practices to limit deforestation. This meeting prompted the creation of forest certification non-profit organizations that currently oversee sustainable forest management practices around the world. There are three of these organizations prevalent in North America: FSC, SFI, and PEFC.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

Photograph from Wikipedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Photograph from Wikipedia, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

The first international non-profit created after the 1992 Earth Summit in response to the need of forestry oversight is the FSC. In 1990, informal meetings among environmentalists, lumber traders, timber users, and human rights organizations took place in California. According to the FSC’s website, these meetings “highlighted the need for a system that could credibly identify well-managed forests as the sources of responsibly produced wood products.”

After the 1992 Earth Summit, it became apparent that this group must evolve into the international non-profit entity it is today. FSC is the world’s second largest forest certification program and as of October 2016, has certified more than 191 million hectares of forest area among 82 participating countries (one hectare is equal to 100 acres). They’re endorsed by the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund.

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)

The SFI program launched in 1994 in the United States, also in response to the 1992 Earth Summit, to promote sustainable forestry practices. It was the US forest sector’s contribution to promote sustainable forestry practices. SFI founders believe that there are different ways to sustainably manage forests that allows them to be more competitive in the market. Since their inception, they’ve garnered a great deal of industry support. In 2005, they were endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), which is the largest international certification program in the world. To date, more than 30 indigenous groups across North America manage over 2.0 million hectares of forest land, certified to the standards of SFI.

To give back to the industry, SFI program participants are required to invest money in forestry research, technology, and science. Since 1995, program participants have invested $1.4 billion USD.

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)

The largest forest certification non-profit program on Earth is the PEFC. It was established in 1999 by national organizations from 11 countries. Whereas the FSC and SFI programs are audited by third parties in what’s considered to be a “top-down” process, the PEFC is considered a “bottom-up” process. The program enables “the development of national standards tailored to the political, economic, social, environmental and cultural realities of the respective countries, while at the same time ensuring compliance with internationally-accepted requirements and global recognition.” In other words, this system allows land owners within participating countries to use a forest management system that’s compliant with their local laws and international forestry standards.

The first countries to be PEFC certified were in the European Union. In 2004, forests in Australia and South America became certified, and in 2011, China came on board. As of June 2016, more than 300 million hectares are PEFC certified.

These programs were created to ensure forests will continue to sequester carbon and provide trees for future generations. Although each program is subject to criticism, their work has shown that there are different, effective ways to sustainably managing forests within the international community.

Resources

 

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

Previous: The Carbon Cycle;  How Foresters Limit Their Carbon Footprint

Coming Next:

  • REDD+ and UN-REDD
  • The Future of Forestry

 

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