Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Importance of Trees: everything you own can be traced to forest products industry


Importance of Trees: everything you own can be traced to forest products industry
Trees are everywhere, from obvious uses like lumber and paper to less obvious uses like touch screens and medicines. In our #ItBeginsWithTrees series, we look at the science behind why trees are required for thousands of products. We're looking at products related to health, hygiene, and medicine today.

Did you know that almost everything you own is related to the forest products industry in some way?

While most people recognize that the wood and paper products in their homes are made from trees, the everyday products we use that depend on the forest go way beyond the obvious: touch screens, medicines, bath products, paints, fabrics and even many foods depend on products derived from trees.

“People don’t realize how many everyday products contain some portion of wood or wood fiber,”  says John Considine, a Materials Research Engineer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Products Laboratory. “Our forests are one of our greatest natural resources. They’re like oil wells above the ground, but they’re renewable.”

Today, we'll look at the science behind why trees are so important in so many critical supply chains in health, hygiene, and medicine:

Trees in pharmaceuticals
If you've ever taken a pill, chances are it contained an element that originated in a forest.

Manufacturers use cellulose ether, which is made from wood, for a variety of purposes in the production of medicines. It can be used to bind pill contents, make the hard outside coating of tablets, or even serve as the slow-dissolving shell in slow-release tablets. Cellulose is also used to thicken liquid medications. Of course, this type of cellulose is carefully processed to keep it clean and pure. That is why it is referred to as "high purity" cellulose.

What makes it work?
1. Maintains strength even in tiny sizes
The same cellulose that helps trees build strong cell walls can be used to make strong products. The layers of cellulose chains in cellulose ether, a natural polymer, are held together by strong hydrogen bonds. This contributes to its strength and stability when mixed with other substances. As a result, it compresses well and holds together well under pressure. Consider how small a pill is and how easily you can squeeze it between your fingers without crushing or changing its shape.

2. Effectively binds to medicine, ensuring accurate dosing
Cellulose is an excellent binder, which means that particles of it "grab" medicine particles and ensure they are evenly distributed in their container. This quality ensures that the correct dose of medication is incorporated into each pill during the manufacturing process.

3. Natural component
Cellulose is the same material we find in plants and vegetables: It is nontoxic and biodegradable, making it suitable for human consumption. While the medicine in a pill is absorbed by your body, the cellulose component is a harmless fibre that passes through your body.

There are numerous other medical applications for forest products.

Beyond the use of cellulose in medications, we need forest products for countless items used in the medical world:

Hand sanitizers, soaps, and bath products containing wood
The same binding ability that makes cellulose useful in medicine is essential in the production of soap. For starters, it can bind with the other ingredients in liquid soaps, shampoos, and body washes, thickening or even gel-ifying them. Cellulose also allows products to bind with water, making them ideal for moisturising soaps and lotions. It works well as a "slip agent" due to its ability to bind with skin and hair. This allows products like deodorants and creams to stay on the user's skin rather than slipping away as soon as they are applied.

Toothpaste with Wood
Cellulose gum, also known as Sodium Carboxymethyl Cellulose (CMC), is a type of cellulose that plays several roles in toothpaste. It acts as a thickener, attaching to the other ingredients in toothpaste and making it smooth and creamy. This feature also prevents ingredients from separating and helps to extend the shelf life of the toothpaste. CMC also gives toothpaste its strength, allowing it to maintain its shape even on your toothbrush. In addition, toothbrushes are frequently made of a hard, "plastic-like" material that is strengthened with the help of cellulose.

Swabs and Tongue Depressors made of wood
Tongue depressors are constructed from wood. It is strong and rigid, allowing it to withstand the moist conditions of our mouths. It's also inexpensive, hypoallergenic, and biodegradable, making it ideal for a one-time use medical item. Wood pulp fibres are frequently used to make the "handle" on cotton swabs for the same reasons.

Diapers and feminine hygiene products containing wood
Wood can be processed into a strong, absorbent material known as "fluff pulp." Softwoods, such as slash pines, have fibres with thick walls that are tightly packed together. This makes them more absorbent, which is why they are preferred in the production of fluff pulp. This same type of pulp is used to make absorbent pads ranging from those used in hospitals to those placed beneath meats in grocery stores.

Disposable Masks and Gowns Made of Wood
While many gowns and masks are made of polyester, some personal protective equipment, or PPE, contains forest products. This article describes how one manufacturer, Harmac, has developed a specially designed "recipe" for western red cedar pulp, which is used to make gowns, masks, caps, and other medical PPE.

Why aren't we out of trees?
Are you astounded by the number of products made from wood? Remember, we've only scratched the surface. Wood can also be found in a variety of foods, high-performance tyres, air filters, and, of course, countless types of lumber and paper products. There are thousands more examples, and the list is growing as researchers discover new applications.

How do we keep up with all the different uses for trees? Forests are a renewable source of energy. Rayonier and other sustainable forestry companies plant more trees than we harvest, ensuring that we have a diverse range of tree ages across our ownership. That ensures our company will always have a "sustainable yield," which means we can cut the same number of trees every year and never run out.

According to Considine, the question should not be how we can use trees less, but rather how we can use them more.

“Our forests make our country very wealthy and give us a tremendous advantage. Just look at the countries that don’t have trees and see what that does to their economies. Wood is the densest cellulose resource in the world. All other sources would require a tremendous expense in transport costs. But wood is something we can use economically in so many different ways, and we have a lot of it.”