April 12, 2018

Finland’s green gold tackles global challenges

Susanna Winqvist

Project manager, Uusi puu

When I was a child, cotton clothes were fine. There was nothing dubious about plastic or concrete either. Currently, we are facing the inconvenient truth. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. Our food and tap water contain micro plastics. The water-intensive cultivation of cotton causes huge environmental problems. Emissions from concrete are five per cent of the total figures, i.e. higher than global air traffic emissions.

Is there anything consumers can do about these global challenges? Definitely. Let’s consume less. However, even if we could reduce consumption, we would still need food, medicines and other necessities. We would also need packages to get food and goods to cities, where increasingly more people are migrating: by 2030, 70 per cent of world’s population will live in metropolises.

Some 86 per cent of Finland’s land area is covered by forest. We have lived off our forests, our green gold, for centuries. Finnish forests are a renewable material source for innovative solutions that help to reduce dependence on fossil and otherwise harmful materials. One of these solutions is wood fibre material that replaces oil-based plastics. “Enhanced paper bags” made of the material combine the recyclability of paper and durability of plastic.

Wood could also replace cotton as a raw material for textiles. A novel Finnish innovation is textile yarn produced directly from wood pulp without extra chemical treatment. I’ve also seen a prototype of shoes made of cellulose!

According to a study by The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, a wooden apartment building produces 5–11 per cent fewer emissions during its lifetime than its concrete counterpart. Wood suits for furnishing too. Did you know that Finns produce wood-based acoustic materials that do not emit harmful chemicals to indoor air, panels that replace gypsum boards and ceramic tiles, and wood-based glues and waterproof wash basins?

We also have wood-based pharmaceuticals, functional food ingredients and hygiene products. Lightweight but durable fibre-based packages keep food and goods safe during transportation and on the shelf. Their recyclability helps to minimise the amount of waste generated.

The next time you consider purchasing something, please find out if there is a wood-based solution available. And remember to recycle – wood really serves the circular economy.

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