WHAT MAKES A PRODUCT & ITS MATERIALS SUSTAINABLE?
What Makes A Product & Its Materials Sustainable?
What Is A Sustainable Product?
What makes a product sustainable? With the war on the waste I’ve been hearing the word sustainable more and more but it got me thinking, what actually makes a product sustainable?
When you look it up, it says “Sustainable products are those products that provide environmental, social and economic benefits while protecting public health and the environment over their whole life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials until the final disposal”. Thank you, Wikipedia!
So what are some examples of sustainable material? Well, we have bamboo, wood, hemp, wool, clay, stone, sand, beeswax and coconut to name just a few. All these materials as different as they may be, have a few things in common.
- They are all easily attainable, grown or made.
- Are all recyclable, reusable, renewable or biodegradable.
- Can easily and safely replace unsustainable materials such as plastics, fossil fuels and fertilisers.
- They have little to no negative impact on the environment.
- We, as a society, can use them for years to come knowing they are safe.
These are materials we can replace at home and within our communities to help benefit our environment, health and lives - Not only for us now but for future generations.
How We Use Sustainable Resources
You may be surprised at what products you can make from these materials, we can use them for all sorts of things in all aspects of our lives, here are just a few examples.
Bamboo is an amazing sustainable resource because it's fast-growing, needs no fertiliser, irrigation or replanting and can grow in a wide range of environments. Bamboo can be used as a cloth for clothing, as a building material for houses, roads and bridges, in medicines, food, fuel, furniture, paper, and bamboo can even be made into baby nappies! The list is truly endless.
Wood has long been used as a resource and until recent years, deforestation has caused soil erosion, loss of animal habitat and has impacted on climate change. Modern forestry standards harvest wood in a sustainable way to help preserve the environment of the forest. Wood can be used as a building material for houses and other construction, furniture, paper, fuel, tools and even to build vessels such as boats, canoes and rafts.
Hemp is a highly sustainable material because it is a weed. It grows quick and fast and with very little help. Theory has it that hemp can help reduce climate change as it takes out large amounts of carbon dioxide per acre, more than most plants. It can also be used in a variety of ways such as cloth, rope, building material, food, insulation, biofuel and is used to help purify water and soil.
Not just restricted to sheep but all wool-producing animals, wool is renewable, biodegradable, recyclable and can be produced organically. Wool is flame-retardant and water-resistant and it can be used in a variety of ways. The most common is as a textile, wool or yarn for clothing but can also be used as a compost, bedding, carpets, blankets and even insulation.
Clay, Stone and Sand
Clay, stone and sand are plentiful, natural and renewable resources that have been used since prehistoric times for construction of houses as well as in many other ways.
When the clay is paired with binders such as straw and sand it becomes much stronger, making it a great building material to use even in modern times.
Clay is used in pottery - both decorative and utilitarian, such as vases, pots, basins, baths, tiles, roofing shingles, pipes, crockery, cement and even musical instruments.
Stone has and still is used in making tools, knives, flints, tiles, fences, walls, roads, bridges and the construction of houses, sheds, shops and other buildings.
Sand is used as a bulking agent in the manufacturing of bricks, mortar, cement, and is the main component of glass. Sand is also used to help improve drainage and the quality of soil.
While these methods have been used since prehistoric times we still use clay, stone and sand for the same purposes today making them the original sustainable resources.
Beeswax is a natural, renewable sustainable byproduct of honey production that has been around for millions of years and is a great alternative to mineral-based wax. In fact, harvesting excess honeycomb encourages healthy colony growth, requires no energy to produce and doesn't require any additional processing before use.
There are many things you can use beeswax for such as candles, timber and leather polishes. Beeswax is greatly used as a sealant, and beeswax wraps are a great alternative to plastic wrap. Beeswax is also used in salves, lip balms, hand creams and other health and beauty products. You can even use beeswax to start a fire.
The coconut tree is a type of palm tree that produces a variety of products from every aspect of the tree from the fruit to the trunk itself, meaning not one part of the coconut palm is wasted.
The coconut fruit is harvested for milk, cream, flour, oil and water and is used for culinary purposes as well as in beauty products such as soaps, salves, balms, shampoos and conditioners.
The husk of the fruit is called coir which can be made into things like, rope, mats, sacks, brushes, used as stuffing for bedding and mattresses, coir also makes a great composting agent as well as caulking for boats.
The coconut shells make great, cups, bowls and can be made into utensils such as spoons and ladles. Coconut shells are used for fuel and are a source of charcoal. Activated charcoal manufactured from coconut shell is extremely effective for the removal of impurities.
The coconut palm are made into brooms and brushes, weaved into baskets and mats, used for thatching roofs, fences and for building a temporary lean-to. Some countries use the palms as a ’wrap’ while cooking.
Palm flowers are used for medical purposes and traditional remedies. The sap of the flowers can be drunk and is known as neera, toddy, tuba, that or karewe and when fermented becomes a sweet and mild alcoholic palm wine which is common in various parts of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
Using the trunk of the coconut palm has become an increasingly popular, ecological alternative to endangered hardwoods. And can be used to build houses, furniture, fences and small bridges. Traditionally the coconut palm trunks we're hollowed out and made into canoes.
My 2 Cents
So when I started to research this blog, I thought I had a rather good understanding of sustainable materials and their purposes, but it seems once again, I was pleasantly surprised at what I learnt. These materials - all of them have been around for almost forever and they all serve multiple purposes, it's time we started to utilise them more.
While change can sometimes be hard, if we all start to make small changes now, the difference we can make would be astronomical. So where possible, buy sustainable made products and make a change today.
The wise words of Jane Goodall sum it up perfectly.