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How green is your green?


How green is your green?

How green is your green?


Where does the material or product come from?

If resources have to be mined or extracted in order to manufacture a new product, then it is less green than when a product is manufactured using the by-products of existing resources.  For example: if new clay has to be mined to produce bricks, the energy consumption of the process is different to when fly ash, a by-product of the manufacturing of cement, is used to produce bricks.  The energy consumption is again different when producing hemp bricks, which are primarily a mixture of hemp hurds and lime.  

Energy output to manufacture bricks

A lot of energy is used in mining and manufacturing processes (not only of bricks, but most manufactured products), which necessarily means a big impact on the environment. 

The product can be considered optimally green when it takes waste materials out of the environment during the process of manufacturing, for example insulation that is locally manufactured from recycled plastic bottles.  You might wonder how green a product is, if it is manufactured overseas using recycled material that otherwise would have ended up as landfill, and it is then imported to South Africa?  Although waste material is used in the manufacturing process, the carbon footprint of transporting the product to South Africa from overseas is enormous. 

The embodied energy of a product or material, i.e. the energy that was used in the making of the product is a crucial aspect in deciding how green a product or material is. 


What is the environmental impact while you are using the product or material?

The environmental impact of a product or material does not end once you have bought it.  What is the environmental costs of using a product or material?   Let's take decking as an example. 



Where is it from?

Maintenance required

Durability & End of life

exotic timber

Probably imported, so the transport carbon footprint is very big.  It does not help the local economy.  Could be from non-sustainable forests or plantations.  May or may not have *FSC certification.

Probably every now and then - depending on where it is used.  Varnish, wax, sealant etc. could possibly harm the environment as a result of maintenance.

It should be possible to re-use, re-purpose or recycle it.

local timber (SA)

Structural pine in South Africa is usually FSC certified.  Some indigenous forests, like those in the southern Cape, are FSC certified.  Buying local supports the local economy, and the carbon footprint in terms of transport is considerably smaller.

Probably every now and then - depending on where it is used. Varnish, wax, sealant etc. could possibly harm the environment as a result of maintenance.

It should be possible to re-use, re-purpose or recycle it.

polywood

Polywood is a material derived from recycled plastic.  There are many South African product options.  It's a good option because it removes plastic waste from the environment.  The carbon footprint will be lower than imported timber. 

Since it's very durable no maintenance will be required.  I.e. no varnish, wax, sealant etc. could possibly harm the environment as a result of maintenance.

This very durable "plastic timber" has an almost limitless life span.  It can be recycled.

composite wood

Some composite wood and plastic timber products are available in South Africa.  They remove plastic and wood chips from the environment, but the carbon footprint could be high since they are often imported. 

Since it's very durable no maintenance will be required. I.e. no varnish, wax, sealant etc. could possibly harm the environment as a result of maintenance.

Since it's very durable "composite timber" the life span is almost limitless.  However, recycling may be problematic as the product cannot be broken down into its original components, i.e. wood and plastic.



It is clear from the above that many considerations should be taken into account when deciding on which products or materials to use.  


 What happens with the material or product when it comes to the end of its life?

Once you have taken into account where it comes from and what its environmental impact may be for the duration of its lifespan, the next thing to think about is what will happen once it's discarded.  The greenest products or materials are those that can be re-used, re-purposed or recycled.