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Alternatives to Wood

Diversifying the approach to creating every day products

Trees are cut down at a rapid rate to meet the demand for products we all use. Some are products that often are on our weekly shopping lists, such as toilet paper, diapers and tissues. Others are things we use regularly but only buy once every few years: wood bed frames, kitchen tables, brooms that have wooden handles, and much more.

What if we used something other than newly-harvested trees to create these products? Finding alternatives to cutting down trees—especially walnut, mahogany, teak and other often over-harvested trees—is a new trend in the forest conservation world. It is a way to take the pressure off of forests. While it doesn’t replace one of the best forest conservation approaches—the responsible management of forests—it is a promising supplement. WWF encourages companies in the US to source or create more products made with the alternative materials. And we help them assess how to do so in an environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable way.

We encourage consumers to buy products made with such materials—many have the Forest Stewardship Council logo—or to ask businesses to carry them if they are not already doing so.

Here's a look at some alternatives:

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Wood that is reclaimed
Wood from demolished barns. Old wine barrels. Wood pallets used for shipping large crates. Many of these are piled up and carted away as trash after they are used. But what about using them to make picture frames, new floors or book shelves? Wood used in this way is “reclaimed wood.” The wood is visually appealing and each piece has a unique look and its own story.

 

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Materials categorized as waste
Whenever wood or paper products are made, waste—known as “residue” or “by-products”—is created, too. This includes sawdust, wood shavings or shreds of paper. We can reuse much of this to make such things as particleboard or fiberboard.

 

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Plants other than trees
Trees contain natural fibers that are used to make pulp. Pulp is the base for a lot of products, such as toilet paper, packaging and fabric. But other plants also have natural fibers that can be used to make pulp. Bamboo, flax, hemp and wheat straw are just a few of them.

 

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Trees, but ones that are not as well-known or frequently used
Even though there are more than 100 tree species in most forests, the majority of our wood products are made from the same two dozen or so tree species because the consumer demand for this type of wood is high. Many of these species are now threatened with extinction due to over-harvesting. One solution to this challenge is harvesting species that are less traditional, but have similar characteristics in terms of performance and aesthetics. Crab wood, wawabima and caraco are among the appropriately termed “Lesser Known Species,” which are a great alternative if harvested responsibly.

 

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Recycled paper
Paper can have a long life. Instead of putting newspapers, letters, magazines and other paper in a landfill, send it to a recycling facility. It will be broken down with chemicals, water and heat; strained; cleaned; de-inked; sometimes bleached; mixed with water; and turned into paper that can be used to create more newspapers, magazines, and more. Numerous steps, yes, but with tremendous long-term benefits for our forests.