For a great many years now, cotton has been touted as the ultimate fabric for the manufacture of all kinds of clothing, due to its natural, breathable composition and its comfortable feel against the skin. However, according to Waterfootprint.org, cotton farming requires the most amount of water in the apparel supply chain. In the case of making a single T-shirt, research from National Geographic estimates that 2,700 liters of water is required, from beginning to end.
In addition, it literally requires acres and acres of land to grow any significant amount of cotton plants, and a great deal of water is consumed in the nurturing of those plants. From this, it should be fairly obvious that any kind of new direction for the world of fashion is long overdue and that new direction seems now to have arrived, in the form of wood-based alternatives for the manufacture of clothing.
An Austrian manufacturer, Lenzing AG, has been developing environmentally friendly clothing for several years now, by converting eucalyptus tree pulp into a fiber which mimics cotton’s breathable nature, but is also far softer to the touch, and much less susceptible to wrinkling. In the year 2000, Lenzing was given a prestigious award by the European Commission, for its forward-thinking contributions to conservation of the environment in making wood-based clothing alternatives.
This wood-based clothing product is known as Tencel, and it is being adopted by more fashion companies around the world each year. Since the entire production process for Tencel is much less impactful to the environment, it has become one of the most popular new fabrics, especially for all those who feel a responsibility for the conservation of the global environment.
Other creative and environmentally friendly products are appearing as well, to contribute to this new direction of the fashion industry. A 17-year old teenager named Sian Healy recently became a finalist in the Miss England competition, while wearing a dress made for her by Pooling Partners, and which was entirely constructed from old wooden pallets. While this kind of special-purpose dress may not be economically viable for mass production, it does at least point out the possibilities for using wood-based materials as an alternative to the traditional ones used commonly in clothing manufacture.
In Culver City, California, another startup company called MeUndies, has developed a fashion line of men’s and women’s underwear, all made from wood pulp fiber which has the appealing property of wicking moisture away from the body. Called MicroModal, it uses beechwood rather than Tencel’s eucalyptus fibers, and is garnering strong appeal for its comfort and sustainable characteristics. Additionally, another fashion designer based in London named Alice Asquith has launched a line of towels, bearing her name, which are made from bamboo fibers and have far greater softness, durability, and absorptive qualities than traditional cotton towels.
Other startups are emerging around the world to take advantage of some of the wonderful characteristics provided by wood-based fabrics, which are much friendlier to the environment than some existing materials. Whereas plants like cotton are farmed with the intent of manufacturing clothes, wood-based based fabrics use wood by-products as their main ingredient. By developing effective uses for these parts of the forest that would normally go to waste, clothing manufacturers are doing their part to make sure that every part of a tree is used when it’s harvested.
In the year 2014, approximately 258 million tons of waste materials were generated by Americans and eventually reached various landfills stationed around the country. A report issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broke down the components of this enormous tonnage as follows: 28.2% was comprised of food waste and yard trimmings, 26% was attributable to paper and cardboard products, plastics accounted for 13% of the total, rubber and textiles contributed 9%, metals were 9%, wood products made up 6%, and glass accounted for 4% of the total.
Consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, a globally known corporate giant, has pledged to keep plastics entirely out of landfills by the year 2020. Plastics aren’t the only by-product of manufacturing that the company intends to shield from landfills though. It has announced that other by-products will be recycled right at the manufacturing locations as well, so there is no need for shipping them to landfills.
Using a process that shreds previously unwanted materials and compressing them into sheets, they can be used as building materials, says the company. The stated landfill avoidance goal of the company is to achieve zero percent waste materials that need to be shipped off-site, and instead recycle them all into materials usable for other industries and applications.
One of the biggest landfill avoidance undertakings that currently goes on, and is expected to increase, is that of recycling wooden pallets. According to the research published in “Pallet Reuse and Recycling Saves High Value Material from Landfills”, in 1992, only about 50 million wood pallets were recovered from landfills and recycled for further usage. Three years later, that figure jumped to 150 million pallets, and by 2006, the number had increased to over 350 million. By recycling so many pallets, it has been calculated that 5.7 billion board feet of lumber were saved in this country, by not having to produce new pallets from freshly cut lumber.
Wood pallet recyclability has been steadily increasing because lumber is a valuable and limited resource. To discard it in a landfill would truly be a waste. New studies are currently being conducted to determine how many wood pallets are diverted from landfills.
The International Stands for Phytosanitary Measures No. 15, referred to in the industry as ISPM 15, is an International Phytosanitary Measure developed by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). According to its documentation, the primary goal is to “reduce the risk of introduction and spread of quarantine pests associated with the movement in international trade of wood packaging material made from raw wood.” The language is comprehensive, covering all forms of wood packaging that serve as pathways for pests that could pose a risk to living trees.
The IPPC is a multilateral treaty signed into effect on December 6, 1951. As of 2010, 74 countries participate in the program. According to the IPPC, the “ISPMs provide globally harmonized guidance for countries to minimize pest risk without creating unjustified barriers to trade, ultimately facilitating their exports and imports of plants and plant products.”
In North America, if a wood products company wants to export lumber then they must comply with the program. The most common way for companies to comply with ISPM 15 standards is by heat treating lumber. In order for lumber to meet these standards, the internal temperature of the timber must reach 56 degrees Celsius or 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes in a kiln. Certain types of lumber, such as plywood, oriented-strand board (OSB), and sawdust are exempt from these standards as they are exposed to the heat-treating requirements during the manufacturing process. The purpose of heat treating lumber to meet ISPM 15 standards is to reduce the risk of spreading wood boring insects.
Wood packaging companies that participate in the ISPM 15 program are assigned a stamp with a unique number and that stamp must be clearly applied to all products used in export. They must keep written logs of incoming heat treated lumber and any outgoing orders where the stamp was used. Compliance is monitored and enforced by third party companies that make unscheduled monthly visits to the wood products companies to ensure all rules and regulations are followed. Some of the largest North American inspection companies are Timber Products, Pacific Lumber Inspection Bureau, and West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau and they work closely with the United States and Canadian governments. If a wood product company doesn’t follow the rules of the program, they can get their stamp revoked and they won’t be allowed to certify lumber products for export.
Lumber and other wood packaging companies across North America have widely adopted the ISPM 15 standards and these standards are intended to help protect our forests from wood-boring pests. According to ISPM 15 language, “Pests associated with wood packaging material are known to have negative impacts on forest health and biodiversity. Implementation of this standard is considered to reduce significantly the spread of pests and subsequently their negative impacts.” By adopting ISPM-15 protocols into the manufacturing processes and by achieving the high levels of industry compliance, the wood packaging industry will enhance its role as stewards of the resource, reducing the risk of spreading wood-boring insects which results in elevating the sustainability of the products we produce.