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New Transparent Wood Alternative Could Eliminate Plastic Usage

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

When discussing climate change and how we can save our planet, the use of plastic and its great harm to the environment are often brought to light. The primary cause of plastics' negative effect is that it takes hundreds if not thousands of years to biodegrade and cause fatal consequences for marine life worldwide. However, a new solution has been developed over the last year: transparent wood.

@University of British Columbia: Dr. Feng Jiang


Components of Transparent Wood

This new and improved version of transparent wood behaves similarly to plastic, with the ability to be molded and formed into several different shapes to serve different purposes as we have done with plastic. The transparent wood itself is developed by breaking down wood fibers from forest waste in a cold sodium hydroxide solution (1) which makes the film durable, strong, and water-resistant, similarly to plastic. The primary component of transparent wood that makes this such an extraordinary solution to plastic usage is that it, unlike plastic, is biodegradable and breaks down within three weeks when placed in the ground or an organic environment (1).

The process of creating transparent wood is also cheap and efficient as it uses cellulose, one of the most abundantly found resources in wood around the world, and lignin found in the wood they worked on to give it similar physical qualities to plastic such as its translucent appearance and is also biodegradable (2). Because of this, transparent wood is significantly more environmentally friendly and can help put a stop to the consumption of plastic that has become such an integral part of our daily lives.

@University of British Columbia: Dr. Feng Jiang


Limitations and Previous Liabilities of Similar Solutions

However, with all solutions that have been created to combat plastic usage, there are limitations to transparent wood. A research study conducted by Dr. Yan Wu from Princeton University and his research team initially encountered some issues in their process of creating the film. For example, in selecting wood types to use in their research, the team selected six common types of wood with ranging values of color, density, and atomic structure that would impact the results of the transparent wood made out of them. Furthermore, the study by Dr. Yan Wu’s research team concluded that although some wood types have varying degrees of translucency and tensile strength, the creation of transparent wood has proven to be able to be effectively created from a great variety of wood types, (2) which in previous models of transparent wood has made the process of creating transparent wood much more complex and expensive.

However, concern for higher levels of deforestation and overconsumption of wood in place of plastic has caused worry for those in the scientific community who raise the question of whether the exchange of eliminating plastic usage and pollution is worth risking the devastation of areas that are already facing dangerous rates of deforestation.

@University of British Columbia: Dr. Feng Jiang


Impact on the World’s Fight Against Climate Change

Furthermore, the replacement of plastic with transparent wood can have a significant impact on pollution and help put our efforts against climate change in the right direction, as being able to eliminate further usage and pollution of plastic will alleviate, to some degree, the efforts currently being made to this issue. Additionally, those efforts previously being put into eliminating and reducing plastic consumption and pollution can be placed into recycling the plastic that has already been polluted and contribute to cleaning our world of its infection into our environment, both on land and in our oceans.


What More Can Be Done

Climate change, however, is not just an issue of eliminating plastic pollution. There are also issues of deforestation, as earlier mentioned, and other types of pollution such as the excessive amounts of carbon that are being emitted into our atmosphere, causing the greenhouse effect and heating up our planet. As the temperature of the planet increases due to the greenhouse effect, when greenhouse gases such as carbon trap more heat into the atmosphere that cannot escape, it leads to global warming. Because of this, we understand that transparent wood is an excellent solution to helping eliminate plastic pollution, but efforts to further solve excessive carbon emissions and deforestation are also necessary.


Sources:

1: Corpuz-Bosshart, Lou. “UBC Researcher Creates Wood-Based Alternative to Single-Use Plastic.” UBC News, 23 Sept. 2022, https://news.ubc.ca/2022/09/23/ubc-researcher-creates-wood-based-alternative-to-single-use-plastic/


2: Wu, Yan. “Study on the Colorimetry Properties of Transparent Wood Prepared from Six Wood Species.” ACS Publications, 22 Jan. 2020, https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsomega.9b02498


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