From a Finnish ball gown to a pair of American trainers, we explore five alternative uses for wood fibre
There’s a common misconception that wood fibre is solely used to create paper and paper products. But this versatile material has plenty of other uses and can turn up in the most unlikely of places – pharmaceuticals, cellophane, sponges, even sausage casings.
But with many traditional products being scrutinised for their environmental impact, manufacturers and retailers are increasingly turning towards wood-based materials to provide a more sustainable alternative. Here are just five.
You shall go to the ball
An evening gown entirely made from birch trees has been created by a team of researchers, experts and students at Aalto University in Finland. The sustainable white fabric used to make the gown was produced using a process called ‘Ioncell’, which creates textile fibre from a range of raw materials, including wood, recycled paper and cardboard.
“Fabric made from Ioncell is soft to touch,” explains Pirjo Kääriäinen, Professor of Practice at Aalto University. “It has a lovely sheen and falls beautifully. Most importantly, it’s an environmentally sustainable option.”
The gown received the seal of approval from Jenni Haukio, the wife of Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, who recently wore the white dress to mark Finland’s 101 years of independence at Helsinki’s Presidential Palace.
Based in San Francisco, the international shoe company All birds has added wood fibre to the range of materials it uses to produce its hugely popular sneakers. Titled The Tree Collection, the shoes are made using TENCELTM Lyocell, a fibre made from the cellulose found in the wood pulp from responsibly grown and sustainably harvested eucalyptus trees.
“Our tree fibre is sourced from South African farms that minimise fertiliser and rely on rainfall, not irrigation,” the company says. “Compared to traditional materials like cotton, it uses 95% less water and cuts our carbon footprint in half.”
The issue of bioplastics has had a lot of focus recently, particularly in the area of recycling food and beverage packaging, but Finnish paper company UPM have developed a renewable wood-based bioplastic that can be used in paperboard cartons, making them much more environmentally friendly. This year, dairy company Arla will be the first business to use these new cartons for their range of milk, yoghurt and cooking products.
“When we have a liquid product such as milk, a thin plastic film is needed inside the carton for reasons of product safety and shelf life,” explains Sanna Heikfolk, Arla’s Brand & Category Manager. “In our new packaging, the source of plastic is now even more responsible because it is made of wood-based raw material.”
Over 40 million Arla cartons will use this newly sustainable bioplastic, which makes the new cartons 100% wood-based, compared to the 85% of a traditional carton.
Cut your cloth
The area of wood-based textiles is rapidly gaining attention across Europe, with new fibres being developed at a number of paper and pulp companies and top fashion and retail brands getting involved. The latest partnership is TreeToTextile, a joint venture between H&M, IKEA and Stora Enso that aims to develop new sustainable textile fibres from wood pulp.
The TreeToTextile process takes raw forest material and regenerates the cellulose gained from it into a textile. The production process uses less energy, chemicals and water than conventional textile processes. As a comparison, it takes almost 12,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton, but for the same amount of water, you can make 26kg of wood-based textile.
“Together with existing consumer and textile knowledge,” says Lena Julle, Category Area Manager Textiles at IKEA, “this brings us one step closer to our goal of introducing a new sustainable low-cost fibre for the people.”
The sound of silence
Finnish acoustics company Lumir uses cellulose fibre produced from wood to create soundproofing materials that are more efficient, use fewer chemicals and are more sustainable than traditional products. While conventional sound-absorbing materials are often made from fibre-glass and use a host of chemicals in their binding agents, materials made from wood products use fewer chemicals and no fibre-glass, making them better for the environment, the buildings and their occupants.
“If you look at the ceilings in any public space, you’ll see these old sound absorbers that often look quite ugly,” says Tuomas Hänninen, Lumir’s R&D Director. “We’re now replacing those with a seamless product that’s healthier for people, absorbs sound more efficiently and looks a lot better too.”
Over 3,000 square metres of wood-based soundproofing has already been installed in Finland’s Parliament House, as well as a section of the Helsinki Metro, the city’s new library and a Lapland planetarium.
Article by Sam Upton