Wood Conservation News and Tips
from Please Conserve

‘Krafting’ a solution to paper and pulp pollution

Is your paper supplier environmentally savvy? This goes beyond the issue of recycled paper. Other issues to consider include how far down the “chain” your supplier is; how efficient and environmentally safe the coating practice is for the paper you use; and whether or not the mill your paper comes from is buying pulp from “sustainable” forests.

Printing and graphics papers are made from the “kraft” pulping process. The word “kraft” means “strong” in German, and kraft paper fibers are exceptionally durable. Kraft pulping uses sulphur to get the fiber out of trees (which results in the “rotten egg” smell around many paper mills). Kraft pulping consumes less than half the wood of a tree – the rest ends up as sludge, which is landfilled or burned. Sadly, paper making consumes an enormous amount of natural resources and energy, and creates tons of waste. A few facts on that issue:

About 90 percent of paper is made of wood, and paper-making accounts for about 43 percent of harvested wood.

Paper making uses vast amounts of water. A report about kraft paper mills in British Columbia showed that 17 mills discharge about 141 billion gallons of liquid effluent (water used to make the paper) into rivers each year.

Paper making creates a lot of pollution. In addition to the sulphur mentioned above, much paper is bleached with chlorine to make it white. One byproduct of bleaching is the chemical dioxin, which is very toxic. Paper companies have greatly improved their processes to reduce pollution over the past two decades, but paper making is still one of the largest polluters in North America.

The Forest Stewardship Council is a non-profit organization that makes sure wood products bearing its logo come from properly managed forests and ecologically sensitive logging practices. The Council works with third-party auditors who track the wood products – including paper – from the forest to the consumer to make sure they are properly handled the whole way. Learn more about FSC’s paper certification process at

Repurpose those piles of pallets

They can be seen behind almost any warehouse in the world, those piles of wooden pallets. It’s hard to predict how many millions are in use in global commerce, but it’s safe to say that many discarded ones end up in landfills if some effort isn’t made to recycle or reuse them.

More so than in the past, businesses are realizing that the bulky wooden pallets that pile up in warehouses don’t need to be pitched with other waste. There are companies that will pick up loads of wood pallets for any of three possible purposes – putting broken pallets through wood chippers to create a mulch product; sorting out the ones that are still in good shape; or fixing damaged pallets for reuse.

“Undamaged pallets that can be restored are collected by pallet recyclers and sold to businesses that require pallets,” says Nate Rosenthal of the Rosenthal Group in St. Charles, Ill., which consults with clients to reduce waste and promote recycling efforts that benefit the company and the environment. “It is not uncommon for a pallet to be used 10 or more times.”

Rosenthal said the business of recycling wooden pallets is facing the same economic pressures as many other recycling efforts. “With the price of fuel playing havoc with the cost of operations, our recycling contractors are beginning to limit the size loads they will accept,” Rosenthal said. “More specifically, many pallet recyclers now require a minimum of 100 pallets before they will dispatch a truck to pick up your pallets.”

Recycling groups or community organizations offer this tip to companies that don’t have many wooden pallets stacking up on them: If you have only a few, just drop add them to the stacks of pallets at a nearby Home Depot and explain that you had a delivery and are just returning them.
In addition to being used for mulch products, Rosenthal said that damaged wooden pallets are often used as firewood in “waste-to-energy” operations.

“Pallets are graded according to condition,” Rosenthal added. “Obviously undamaged pallets are valuable and offer the highest rebates. Pallets with one or two broken boards are considered repairable and have some value. All others are usually scrapped and ground up for mulch.”

One of the other nice “green” features of wooden pallets is that they generally are made from wood that is left over from some other sort of production that is not suited for building or furniture construction. In that regard, they are made from potential waste wood and are already an environmentally friendly product.

Some businesses also list leftover pallets on Craigslist or a local Yahoo group to lure interest from crafters and woodworkers. It is all part of the process to recycle wooden pallets as much as possible, limiting the number of trees cut down to make them, and also keeping a large, bulky item out of our landfills.

Being ‘green certified’ a key for developers

In addition to conserving resources and helping the environment, builders are finding it more practical and financially rewarding to have their homes “green” certified.

That means the builder gets recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program for meeting certain criteria in eco-friendly building materials and paints, and standards in home safety and efficiency regarding cleaner air and water usage.

With more buyers seeking “green” homes, or at least more “green” elements within a home, the builders are finding those types of homes easier to sell or lease.

For the consumer, what exactly does a “green” home mean?

It can mean a lot of different things, depending on the type of home and the builder, as some go above and beyond to higher levels of LEED certification.

The trends are for builders to use sustainable woods, recycled products, reclaimed products, and paints and glues that do not emit toxins.

Bamboo floorings are a more current trend in sustainable products, and it is clear that green roofs and green walls on or within a home are becoming more popular.

Many builders seek vendors that have green policies, such as a carpet-recycling program or renewable wood flooring such as lyptus wood or, again, the bamboo product. Another trend is to use low-maintenance, recycled wood substrate siding, or work with roof and wall sheeting made from renewable sources to eliminate the impact on forests.

All green builders use low VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, which decreases toxic emission into the air. They also use sprayed on insulation that prevents moisture, thus blocking potential mold growth.

A green-certified home has fundamental features as well, such as caulking, but they do these tasks thoroughly in addition to proper venting and foam-sealing of windows. Extra insulation in attics and garage doors is also becoming more common as ways to conserve energy during extreme summer or winter seasons.

It’s becoming a fairly basic formula for builders and home buyers: Green buildings use less energy, water and natural resources, while creating less waste. At the same time, they are proving to be more comfortable and healthier for the occupants.

Leisure on a deck can help our environment

In many parts of the country, using an outdoor deck can be a year-round pleasure. In other parts, it is a nice haven for about half of the year, or however many warm months occur. In either scenario, decks continue to be an excellent gathering place or a setting for an individual’s peace and quiet. Decks remain a popular part of the American home landscape as part of a new home or an addition to an existing home. Yet most of the people who have them built probably never even consider their environmental and energy-saving benefits.

Why are decks energy efficient? If you own a deck, you spend less time indoors. That means you should be using less power inside for air-conditioning, lights and electronic gadgets. Those who make a point to spend plenty of time outdoors on their deck should see a lower utility bill.
A roof or pergola over your deck, or a tall side wall near the deck, can block the sun from your home and provide extra shading. This is most noticeable if these structures, or a strategic set of bushes or trees, can shade the large glass door that usually is an entryway onto a deck.

Saving energy is one aspect. Being environmentally friendly is another. It has been reported that a company called Trex has developed a new decking material called Transcend, which is made from 95 percent recycled materials, mostly recycled plastic bags and sawdust.

Transcend also has a thin polymer top cap, which makes it easier to clean and eliminates the need for some of the harsher cleaning chemicals that are common for decks. Alternative decking materials are becoming more readily available and should be considered when contemplating a deck project. While some of these materials may cost more than wood, the trade-off is the longevity of the product and its lower maintenance needs.

Controlled Burns Can Help Minimize Carbon Footprint

Controlled fires are often used by forest rangers to reduce the chances of dangerous wildfires. However, new research shows that these prescribed burns can also serve an environmental benefit. According to a study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, an expansive system of controlled burns produces significantly less carbon dioxide emissions than wildfires of equal size. Using satellite observations and computer modeling, the scientists discovered that widespread prescribed burns can reduce fire emissions of carbon dioxide in the Western U.S. by an average of 18 to 25 percent and by as much as 60 percent in particular forest ecosystems.

The scientists used a model that estimated carbon dioxide emissions from wildfires in 11 Western states from 2001 to 2008 based on the mass of vegetation burned. They compared that to the amount of emissions that would have been released if those forests had been exposed to comprehensive controlled burns. The results showed that carbon emissions for the specific states were reduced by an annual average of 14 million metric tons.

Uncontainable wildfires often destroy bigger trees that serve as repositories for large amounts of carbon, while controlled burns target underbrush and small trees, which store significantly less carbon. By eliminating fire-prone underbrush, the controlled burns keep the larger trees’ carbon secured in the forest and out of the atmosphere. Prescribed fires can help offset the significant amount of carbon dioxide released by other sources such as factories and motor vehicles. “While it can be costly to set controlled fires, there is also a cost in leaving forests vulnerable to larger fires,” Christine Wiedinmyer, the lead author of the study, said.

Cork’s Sustainability Depends on New Uses

The wine industry’s conversion from corks to plastic caps is beginning to have an unintended consequence—threatening the sustainability of the nation’s existing cork oak trees. In recent years, up to 90 percent of wine bottle caps have been converted to plastic. Without sufficient demand for cork, producers have less incentive to maintain the trees, which are beginning to disappear.

One company coming to the rescue is Adapt-Mobile Ltd., maker of phone accessories, which now offers its Adapt Eco Case line, which is made of natural cork. The cases are stylish and leather-like in appearance, touch and durability, but provide a much more eco-friendly solution to protecting smartphones and laptops. The natural protective properties of cork also make the cases both heat- and water-resistant.

Adapt-Mobile is working in partnership with Trees for Cities, an independent charity working to enrich biodiversity, create social cohesion and beautify cities through community tree planting, education and training initiatives in urban areas.

By purchasing Adapt Eco Cases, consumers can create a demand for corkwood, thereby supporting the ecosystems in which cork grows. In addition, Adapt-Mobile is donating 55 cents from every Eco Case sold to support the planting of new cork trees. Its goal is to plant more than 900 trees by 2011.

I am Helping a Tree Take a Chance on Me?

Climate change always gets a bad rep. It’s blamed for rising ocean levels, melting glaciers, and a slew of many other predicaments. However, amidst all these problems, climate change has done one thing well: it has promoted the growth of forests in the Eastern United States. This unexpected outcome really embodies the idea of looking on the bright side of things.

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, trees in the mentioned region are growing faster than they have in the past 225 years. Ecologists Geoffrey Parker and Sean McMahon found evidence that the forest is growing an additional 2 tons per acre annually. To bring this into perspective, that is like having a 2-foot diameter tree sprouting in a year. On the average, such trees take decades and even centuries to grow fully. Parker and McMahon say that this growth spurt is likely due to several factors of climate change: increased levels on CO2 in the atmosphere, an increased temperature, and a lengthened growing season. Their study stated that CO2 levels have risen by 12% in the past 22 years, the mean temperature has risen by three-tenths of a degree, and the growing season has increased by 7.8 days. All these factors combined are the reason the trees have been shooting up in inches.

Growing trees are a good thing. More trees means more CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere and converted into oxygen. So does this study mean we can bust out our Escalades and crank the A/C on high? Not so fast, junior. Despite the fact that the study doesn’t mention any consequences of the tree growth spurt, it is important to look at the bigger picture. Sure, the trees are sprouting, but at the same time, global climate change causes more devastation than benefit: more extreme weather (heat waves, hurricanes), increased temperature of oceans, change in the pattern of migration and mating for animals…the list can go on and on. So although it is reassuring to know that our wasteful ways have incurred some benefit, the consequences outweigh profits and we should not be encouraged to continue perpetuating climate change, but rather strive to mitigate it.

I Now Pronounce You……..Clean and Green

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Oh yeah, and something green too. You may be confused by the last addition to the traditional wedding superstition, you should definitely add it to your list of wedding to-dos. An article from the Orlando Sentinel lists several ways that weddings as well as other large functions can become more eco-friendly.

Invitations-Use invites made on recycled paper. Feeling a bit more generous toward the environment? Your best bet? Use email. No letters, no envelopes, and no stamps will be involved. It’s an overall bargain.
Flowers-Used potted flower arrangements. After the event, donate the flowers to guests, a local nursing home, or even a hospital and check off your random act of kindness for the day.

Food- Buy fresh, locally grown food. Make sure to cater to the amount of guests you are expecting and avoid buffet style to prevent guests from piling on massive heaps of food, only to dispose of it later.
Tableware- Reserve real glass, china, and cutlery instead of paper or plastic. Not only is this the more green choice but the garbage man will thank you later.

Favors- Pass out gifts that guests could actually use. One can only handle so many almonds. Think of distributing seeds that guests could plant, reusable water bottles, or canvas bags.

Location- Although it may sound exotic and fancy, avoid destination weddings or events to reduce travel. Encourage guests to carpool, and for weddings, keep the reception close to the ceremony.

Weddings and large events were traditionally overlooked as a place to implement green practices because everyone wants these events to be ‘perfect’ and ‘unforgettable’. But thinking about the large amount of resources that it takes to put together such events, adding a few eco-conscious practices will go a long way. These may be the biggest days of your life, but you don’t have to slay Mother Nature in the process.

Fake Trees? No Thanks.

Fake seems to have a bad rep nowadays. Fake designer bags, fake gold, fake teeth- despite a generally smaller price tag, these imitations just don’t get the same respect as their ‘real’ counterparts. Americans are usually down for a bargain, but when it comes down to it, they want the real thing. But what if fake was a good thing? What if fake could save the environment? Skeptical? I was too.

Allow me to introduce to you…the fake tree. Developed by a company called Global Research Technologies, the ‘tree’ is constructed out of plastic with leaves that capture carbon dioxide in the air and store it in a chamber located in the center of the tree. The Co2 is then compressed into a liquid form. The company speculates that the liquid can be used for fuel or be applied to crops to promote growth. The tree is estimated to absorb 1000 times more carbon than a real tree. So it turns out that not all fake things are evil. At least not on the surface.

Although the synthetic tree has quite promising achievements, is it truly as eco-friendly and all-powerful as it seems? Not quite sure. Because the tree is made mostly of plastic, construction would require using a lot of this precious resource and the company did not mention the use of recycled plastic as a building material. The use of plastic would only deepen our dependence on petroleum. And in times where gas prices are high and supply is dwindling, this may not be such a good idea.

Another flaw of these plastic plants is that they will take up space. And a lot of it. Why not utilize this space for planting real trees?-Trees that can not only reduce carbon emissions but also beautify the landscape and benefit both humans and ecosystems alike. Besides, who would want to climb a plastic tree? Or build a tree house in one? Not only would these trees not be aesthetically pleasing, they would destroy childhood pastimes as we know them.

Generally, fake can be good. Fake can save money, resources, and even reduce carbon emissions. And although the synthetic trees proposed by Global Research Technologies are a good idea in theory, in practice, they will only contribute to the use of more resources, more space, and ultimately extend the need for oil. So when it comes to trees, real please.

Kimberly Clark Tries, But Can Do Better

Pretty soon you may be blowing your nose and wiping your behind with a more eco-friendly tissue. The Kimberly-Clark Corporation, a giant in the paper industry, has agreed to begin using more recycled paper in its products. The paper company is finally surrendering to suggestions from Greenpeace to stop using old-growth timber for production of paper products. According to an August 5, 2009, article from the Washington Post, in return, Greenpeace has agreed to end their 4-year “Kleercut’ campaign which attacked Kimberly-Clark’s detrimental practices.

Although the agreement does sound promising, the company stated that only 40 percent of its wood would be from recycled paper or sustainable forests. 40 percent? This may be better than nothing, but it is still not enough. What does KC have to lose from using recycled paper? Forests that have taken hundreds of years of grow? National parks? Backyards? Playgrounds? Trees are not easily renewable resources-they take decades, if not centuries to grow. With millions of Kleenex users around the country, millions of trees are sacrificed for nothing more than convenience. Back in the day, people had to use handkerchiefs and they didn’t drop dead doing so. I’m not saying we go back to horse-drawn buggies and hoop skirts, but we can be a little nicer to Mother Nature and it doesn’t take that great of a sacrifice.

Despite their ‘revolutionary’ announcement, Kimberly-Clark can do more to mitigate their use of old-growth lumber. What is worse is that they do not plan on using 100 percent recycled paper in the future because it would be too coarse for American consumers. Whatever I am relieving my mucus in does not to be a satin pillow. Maybe that’s just me.

Ultimately, more pressure needs to be put on Kimberly-Clark to make their products content include more than 40 percent recycled material. Recycled paper is already there. No trees need to be cut, run through a mill, made into paper. KC pretty much has there work cut out for them. So, although 40 percent is better than nothing, KC can definitely step it up.  If they can’t do 100, let’s aim for something lower. How about 99.9?


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