As a manufacturer of consumer products, we at Treleaf strive to do our bit to incorporate sustainable manufacturing practices and materials. This blog series is intended to give you a behind the scenes peek into the choices we make and why we do things the way we do it.
When designing any product, an important consideration is selecting the right materials. As a materials engineer by training, I think about mechanical properties like compression strength, flexural strength, stiffness, moisture resistance, and their changes over the lifetime of the product. There is a large set of material to choose from - plastics, ceramics, wood, metal, etc.
But as a plant lover, I also want to choose materials that are sustainable, and eco-friendly. Sustainability is a very complex topic, often interpreted loosely. In our case, we have very specific questions we ask before making a choice. One of the criteria we use to screen materials is the lifecycle of the product. We ask the question, ‘What happens to the product when the customer is done using it?”.
Not every manufacturer thinks about sustainability, lifetime and overall impact on the environment before putting a product in the market. We feel like we can make at least a small advance by considering these factors from an initial stage of design.
Plastics obviously have wonderful properties and advantages. They are inexpensive, available with a number of different properties, can be made into shapes in a number of different ways and are pretty much “indestructible”. But when we run into our lifecycle criteria, the indestructible part makes it challenging. While there are plastics that can be recycled, they often end up in landfill. Other more earth-friendly plastics just do not have the durability for the applications we are looking for.
Materials like metals and ceramics are much more expensive to fabricate in the shapes and the aesthetics we are interested in.
So that brings us to wood. Wood is a renewable material. Wood also can be looked at as a carbon capture machine. Wood has the mechanical properties that we need to make our plant supports. Wood also is compostable and biodegradable and “earth-friendly”. But wood is not as moisture-resistant as plastic.
For moisture, we take a little help from plastics here. We coat our trellises with water-based polymeric coatings to give it a reasonable lifetime. The coatings are technically a very thin layer of plastic (micron thick, almost the thickness of a hair). We believe this is an acceptable compromise over full plastic construction.
By making earth-friendly choices, we have designed our products to last long enough, but they will not last forever. And that is what you are buying when you are buying a Treleaf product - a product that is designed to break down and become one with earth.
Does every product really need to last forever?
This blog is the first part of a two part series that talks about the ethos behind Treleaf product design and manufacturing.