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.

recycled pine needle material sustainable

“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.”

recycled pine needle stages

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.

recycled pine needle process

“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.”

recycled pine needle objects

“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.”

Waste Not: Scientists Turn Pine Needles into a Renewable Plastic

pine needles 2

Recently, we learned that the fresh scent of Eastern White Pine trees growing in forests can actually help combat climate change by emitting particles into the air that promote cloud formation. As if that wasn’t cool enough, a new scientific innovation is proving the power of pine in a whole new way: by transforming waste pine needles left over from timber processing into a renewable plastic.

Needles account for 20% to 30% of a pine tree’s mass, and a lot of them tend to accumulate at saw mills. Sometimes they’re burned or composted, and sometimes they’re up cycled into biomass for fuel or mulch for gardens. But now they might just represent a much cleaner, greener future for plastics, replacing crude oil.

Chemists led by Matthew Davidson at the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies in England found that pinene, the naturally derived organic compound that gives pine trees their smell, can be converted into a polymer using a four-step process. This is a huge breakthrough not only for plastics in general but for the effort to create plastic products from renewable resources, as previous attempts required adding some non-renewable components to give the final plastic flexibility.

This new pine needle plastic, on the other hand, could come entirely from renewable sources, eliminating the need to use fossil fuels and finding a new purpose for waste at the same time.

“We’re not talking about recycling old Christmas trees into plastics, but rather using a waste product from the industry that would otherwise be thrown away and turning it into something useful,” says PhD student Helena Quilter, who worked on the project.

Image via Wikimedia Commons