Want to Reduce Wood? Try Its Sustainable Alternatives

Want to Reduce Wood? Try Its Sustainable Alternatives

Wood is undeniably strong and beautiful. I always think things look a lot more sophisticated and classy with wood and which is why I always have a soft spot for it. But as we know, wood is from a cut tree, and trees are needed for a lot of things too, like paper and tissue.

Sustainability is still a challenge for wood companies, and especially with the growing amount of humans (and palm oil in some countries), deforestation has always been a menacing problem. In United States, old-growth trees like redwood and spruce are 91% deforested.

There are protection programs and systems, of course. For example, National Parks have instructed companies to replant trees that they cut down for industry. But that alone can’t guarantee a protection against climate change and nature.

deforestation is still a problem that needs solving
deforestation is still a problem that needs solving

California wildfires have burned 1.2 million acres of trees that include old-growth redwoods. And the trees that managed to survive and are still standing are getting dried out because of the drought. This may lead to more fires.

Even so, wood is still a valuable thing and is highly sought by manufacturers and constructors. Joe Luttwak understands this and he wanted to create an alternative for wood that’s Earth friendly.

For a start, he founded Blackbird Guitars in 2006. It’s a company that replaces old-growth wood, which are usually used to make classical guitars, with high-performing non-wood. He commented “That was a pretty novel idea back then.”

Read also: This pollution-based ink is going to replace conventional ink.

The beginning

Initially, Luttwak and his team created guitars out of carbon fiber. In theory, carbon fiber is a lightweight material, weather resistant, and doesn’t seemingly need a lot of natural resource. The fact is that it’s quite wasteful to produce.

You can’t melt down and reform carbon fiber, so material scraps that are not used to make guitars ended up in trash bin. To make things worse, it’s not recyclable because of its complex, chemical nature.

Clearly carbon fiber didn’t work as a good wood substitute. So in 2008, Luttwak wanted to work with natural materials, but he wanted the process to be more precise and scalable.

Therefore, he reached out to a California based company that produces natural, plant-based resins. He consulted with the companies about how he could mix the resin into a natural, non-wood thing.

Flax became the main material for Ekoa
Flax became the main material for Ekoa by Globe Master Wikimedia Commons

Luttwak realized that wood that comes from trees are basically a natural combination of plant fibers and resin, so he was determined to make an eco-friendly alternative that is even stronger.

After a lot of research, Luttwak finally settled on flax. It’s a really sturdy and robust natural item that grows in relatively little resources. And when it’s mixed with resin, it forms into a paste.

This combination is since called Ekoa. Ekoa resembles old-growth wood a lot more in terms of strength, performance, and most importantly, biodegradability.

Additionally, this material is easily moldable, lighter, and more sustainable than carbon fiber. Luttwak and his team could then mold the paste into whatever shape they wanted.

Having found a perfect wood replacement, Luttwak launched another business which specifically manufacture Ekoa-based products called Lingrove in 2014.

Lingrove’s first product was a small ukulele, then it grew into a guitar, and now the company is getting more demand from various markets.

The company has manufactured fishing rods and canoe paddles. Recently, Lingrove has introduced and Ekoa-based replica of an iconic tulip arm chair designed by Eero Saarinen, and if you’re not told that it’s not wood, you won’t notice at all.

That said, Lingrove is not a manufacturing company. It only partners with companies who want to have an Ekoa material of their products. Luttwak said, “It seems like an opportunity worth pursuing. We’re pursuing big customers and large material flows to really make an impact.”

Luttwak stated that he saw a potential to produce Ekoa skateboards. He imagined that this material would soon replace wood that’s usually present as elements in cars. He also saw a potential to mold Ekoa for bicycles.

I personally hope to happen quite soon, because carbon fiber is a great material for bicycles, but Ekoa is better than carbon fiber.

Read also: Biking to work is good for Earth and your health.

Other alternatives

If you can’t get Ekoa-based things around you, don’t worry. There are other materials which are just as strong and environmentally friendly. The most obvious one is bamboo. This material is getting more and more popular to replace wood, especially for furniture and tiling.

Bamboo is also within grass family, so it grows very quickly, making it highly renewable. Even though it’s strong, it can still get scratches. But you can easily sand it out and refine it.

The second option is cork. More people are using this material for furniture, walls, and floors (even for leather! Read more about it here).

Cork is not only appealing and attractive, it’s also a perfect eco-friendly choice because it’s harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree. It’s only the bark, so there are no cutting down trees to harvest it.

If you use cork for flooring, you’ll get more warmth underfoot when you compare it with real wood. It’s also brilliant for noise and temperature insulation, so you won’t have to worry about energy efficiency.

Moreover, it’s easy to clean and hypoallergenic, so if you’ve got allergies, you’ve got your great choice now.

A public library with cork flooring
A public library with cork flooring

Oriented strand board (OSB) is similar to plywood. It’s a construction material which can often be found as a finishing surface in modern interiors. OSB is similar to MDF (medium-density fibreboard), but it takes larger wood pieces that are combined with glue and resin to construct it.

If you love bare brick walls, exposed piping, reclaimed wood, all that rustic things, you’re going to love the “raw” appearance of OSB. You can put this on feature walls, ceilings, carpentry, and furniture.

This material is affordable, strong, and sustainable. For your convenience, OSBs are available in very large sheets, so you can use it on a large area hassle-free.

Do you think Ekoa is going to be mass-produced any time soon? Or do you think that the current wood alternatives are good enough to prevent deforestation? We’d like to know your take on this, so don’t hesitate to comment down below. Be sure to read our article of eco-friendly alternatives and forest issues-related topics!




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