Pine Needles Transformed Into Sustainable Accessories

In forests that aren’t actively managed, dry pine needles can accumulate to the point of becoming a wildfire hazard. But there are all kinds of uses for this biodegradable material, from mulch to livestock bedding, and one designer has even found a way to turn them into stylish home accessories. Guarav MK Wali’s “Cheer Project” separates the fiber of the pine needles and binds them with resin, waxes and natural dyes to produce a 100% bio-based material that can be molded into items like cups and trays.

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“It has been an experiment to understand the root of a local material and its potential and possibilities in an ever-increasing demand for alternatives for the production of sustainable objects,” says the designer. “The ultimate concept rested on the fusion of local craftsmanship and sustainable utilization of a naturally abundant novel material; the rediscovery of the pine needle.”

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Wali came up with the idea after frequent forest fires caused serious damage to the northern region one India, which is home to an abundance of pine trees. His zero-waste process uses a shredder built with open-source plans by Precious Plastic and can be mimicked by just about anyone who wants to try it for themselves. The designer now holds artisan training workshops for women to teach them how to make objects with the material, generating new household income.

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“It seeks to reinvent the way we perceive pine needles to provide a solution for these complex and interrelated problems. A new way of thinking that tackles the plurality of the situation with a holistic approach. A system of production processes, products and sustainable functioning that gives momentum to pine needle as a revolution that empowers the local communities and provides them with economic sustenance, while providing an alternative to plastic in these environmentally tragic times.”

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“The principles upon which the model works was not the confrontation of humans and nature, but their assimilation. Where human progress is enhanced by nature, kindling a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature that we seem to have forgotten with time.”

Coming Soon to Mainstream Fashion: Wood-Fiber Clothing

The world is embracing wood as one of the most sustainable materials on the planet. Soon, we’ll even start seeing wood-based clothing on the racks at mainstream retailers like H&M. Suzano SA, the world’s largest wood pulp maker, is collaborating with Finnish startup Spinnova to build a commercial-scale facility producing a new wood fiber that could compete with cotton. H&M joins Chanel and other fashion brands to participate in the development of the material in exchange for the honor of being among the first to offer it to consumers.

Suzano, based in Brazil, is primarily known for providing wood pulp used to make paper cups and tissues to companies across the globe, and currently has a team of nearly 100 scientists researching new applications that could replace environmentally harmful products like plastics. 

“It is not a niche market for us,” Vinicius Nonino, Suzano’s new business director, said in an interview. “We want to be a relevant player. We will compete with cotton with sustainability advantages and also with price.”

Business of Fashion notes that the pulp provided by Suzano to create this new wood fiber has one major difference from an existing wood pulp textile fiber known as viscose: it’s processed without chemicals. To make viscose, cellulose is treated with caustic soda and carbon disulfide, then dumped into a chemical bath of sulfuric acid. This is an energy-, water- and chemically-intensive process that’s also highly polluting. The new Spinnova material will be mechanically processed instead using a technology that’s been in development for 15 years.

“As well as bridging the cellulose gap, the Spinnova fibre also helps fight climate change,” says Spinnova. “Created with minimal water and emissions, it offers a solution to other huge megatrends challenging our planet and worsening the climate crisis; fresh water shortage and CO2 emissions.”

Transparent Wood: What Can’t This Material Do?

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You read that right: there is now a way to make wood transparent, making this timeless natural material even more versatile than it already is and opening up virtually limitless architectural and design capabilities for the future. Though it’s a long way from being commercially available, ‘invisible wood’ is in fact a reality now that scientists at University of Maryland, College Park have developed a special chemical process to remove the lignin that gives wood its color.

Not only is this processed wood as clear as glass, it’s sturdier than traditional wood, too, and could be used in place of less environmentally friendly materials in applications where unbreakable glass is needed. According to Dr. Lianging Bhu of the University’s Department of Material Science and Engineering, the key is chemically removing the lignin and then injecting the empty veins of the wood with epoxy to make it strong and durable. Similar to the cellular structure of bone, the tiny channels that naturally occur in wood are responsible for its strong yet flexible qualities.

Glass has poor thermal isolation, making it a weak point for temperature regulation in most sustainably-designed structures. Since wood is a natural insulator, it could make a dramatic difference in keeping buildings protected from extreme hot and cold.

“Potentially, the wood could be made to match or even exceed the strength of steel per weight, with the added benefit that wood could be lighter in weight,” says Hu. “It’s exciting. And because the material has been used for a long time, there’s already a lot of know-how and manufacturing infrastructure in the wood industry so the field will develop very quickly.”

This breakthrough comes on the heels of a major renaissance of large-scale wooden architecture picking up speed around the world, as government officials approve building projects on wooden skyscrapers towering higher than ever. All of these advancements point to a looming resurgence in demand for wood, boosting the industry on virtually all levels.

Pine Plywood Takes Center Stage in Minimalist Home

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Gone are the days when plywood was considered a sub-material unfit for use as a final finish in a quality building. Modern architects and interior designers are featuring it as a focal point, highlighting its textures and natural patterns, especially when juxtaposed with stark white surfaces. This home by i29 Interior Architects in Bloemendaal, Netherlands is a prime example, using pine plywood for everything from the dramatic floating fireplace in the living room to built-in bunk beds.

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The architects carried the use of plywood throughout the entire home, fostering a sense of continuity. Free of busy details like hardware and trim, the large, unadorned sheets of plywood have a tastefully minimalist feel. The all-white space would be far less visually interesting without the unfinished pine accent walls, shelving, niches and custom furniture.

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Aside from its affordability and ease of installation, one advantage of plywood is the continuous pattern that splashes across its entire surface in a motif reminiscent of sunlight sparkling on the surface of moving water. The effect is subtle yet breaks up what could otherwise be a monotonous decor scheme.

Wood Innovations: Beautiful Uses for Textile-Like Timber Skin

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What would you create with a flexible wooden material that can be wrapped around objects or manipulated into shape like a piece of fabric? The faceted panels of ‘wood skin,’ a composite material that’s redefining the possibilities of wood, enable it to bend and fold in extraordinary ways. Applied to a textile backing, the geometric pieces of wood in various shapes and sizes hinge at desired points for virtually limitless applications.

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Created by a design team in Milan using specially-created software, the revolutionary material creates a high-end modern aesthetic, whether it’s applied to surfaces or bunched up into sculptural ceiling installations or freestanding structures. The design enables vertical and horizontal 3D surfaces, volumes and panels.

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The multi-toned walls at Dubai’s Reign Restaurant are particularly stunning, showing the material in action as partition walls, curtains and cladding. There’s also an acoustic version called ‘sound-skin’, shown here at the On-House Home Theatre in Milan.

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Want to play around with it yourself? You can order sample packs at the Wood Skin website.

Wood Innovations: New Veneer Can Be Sewn Like Fabric

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This quilted material isn’t fabric that’s printed to look like wood – it’s actual wood veneer. The innovative new invention from Berlin-based designers Anastasiya Koshcheeva and Oya-Meryem Yanik is soft enough to be joined with thread rather than glue, and can be used alone or in conjunction with plywood.

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The material is called ‘Chester’ and it’s more than just a decorative finish for products like the stool pictured above. The quilting method of joining the layers of soft, moldable plywood creates a cushioned surface.

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The resulting product can be cut to size and has potential for use in the furniture, transportation and industrial industries. It’s an interesting new way to look at wood, a product generally perceived as being very solid and inflexible, potentially opening up a whole new realm of possibilities for the material.

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“I explore each material’s unique potential, aesthetic features, and haptic qualities in an experimental way and turn my insights into design concepts,” says Koshcheeva. “My work is characterized by the combination of contrasting textures, colors, and skills. I create products with character that have a story and tell it through the design.”