by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
Renewable materials, predominately, are those given to us by Nature in a number of ways, though most of them grow in one way or another be this cotton, linen, hemp, etc., for cloth or wood for many things including paper.
Glass too is made from a natural material, in this case silicate, that is to say, basically sand, though the renewability here is not as easy as with materials that actually grow.
Hemp (Canabis sativa) is not only a plant from which we can derive fiber for the making of cloth, canvas, and clothing but also make paper, cheaper and better than from wood, and also bio-fuels, and that, basically, all at the same time. No wonder that cultivation is illegal nowadays or strictly controlled.
For the making of cloth another plant comes in very handy indeed and it is always – though edible – seen as a weed and that is Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). The ancient British people made cloth for clothing and other uses from it and it was even used in World War One for the making of canvas and the plant was also used to make the khaki dye for the combat uniforms of the British troops.
There is, obviously, cotton too that is a natural and renewable source for the making of fiber for cloth and clothes, as is linen, made from flax. Wool is another renewable cloth material as it grown on the back of sheep and other such animals and the shearing does not harm the animal.
Wood is obviously one of the ultimate renewable natural material but it takes a while before a tree reaches the age for the wood the be useable for many larger items. However, coppicing makes for the much better management system creating a perpetually growing tree even when it is cut, for it will regenerate from the base and the stems can be felled in rotation in the not so distant future and this circle can go on almost ad infinitum.
Before the advent of plastics wood was prevalent for much in people's lives, from heating to eating and everything else almost. Wood was the heat source in the homes and the food was prepared and eaten with wooden spoons from wooden plates even. Every tool had wooden handles and many tools were entirely made from wood.
Paper from wood pulp has not been with us for that long a time, I have to admit, and before that paper was either made from rags – linen and such – and from hemp. The first paper, made by the Chinese, was made from rags and the same method was later used in Europe, and then paper from natural fibers came into being, and that long before it was discovered that wood could be made to a pulp from which paper can be made.
Hemp (Canabis sativa) can, as said, also be used for the making of paper and while Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) can be used to make cloth I am not sure as to whether the lignin content is high enough for the making of paper. It would be good to give it a try, however.
Renewable materials are all those that grow and thus they exclude materials such as steel, aluminium (aluminum), copper and other such materials for, while the materials from which they are made are natural, as in iron ore, copper ore and such like they are not renewable, in the same way that oil and natural gas are not.
Iron, steel, copper, etc. are all man-made materials even though they come about through natural resources but, alas, non-renewable ones, and much of the ores have been extracted already and, like oil and gas, they are getting more and more difficult and expensive to extract, and not just in way of financial costs but also in costs to the environment.
The reason scrap copper and aluminium have become so expensive is that the raw materials for both, aside from the fact that both metals are heavily used, have almost run out, especially as regards to bauxite, the basic raw material from which aluminium is being made.
We need to return to a use of renewable materials, though in a much more sustainable way than we have ever done, and that then also means less consumption and more reuse of what we have. And demanding that products are made in such a way that, like not so many decades ago, everything can be repaired and thus being kept “alive” for as long as at all possible rather than needing to be replaced every so often.
With using renewable raw materials, anyway, the waste that is being carried out today with built-in obsolescence just will no longer be feasible as, despite of being renewable, the resources are also limited to what can be grown.
The world, and that means all of us, need a new mindset and part of this mindset is being satisfied with what we have rather than racing, like a hamster in the wheel, after the next thing.