Paper made from stone and wood in a lab

I have a huge map of the world in my house. I often stand in front of it – to dream about all the countries I still want to visit, to show my children where a country is, or to let a piece of news sink in, like the fact that 6.5 million hectares of forest disappear every year. That’s 17 football fields per minute. But no matter how long I think about it, or how long I look at the world map, I find it difficult to fully grasp.

Deforestation is a threat to all life on earth, but takes place almost unnoticed. And yet we all contribute to it. The more we consume, the faster it goes. Entire ecosystems are disappearing because of the growing demand for palm oil and soybeans, for example. Trees are making way for agricultural land, 80 percent of which is – ironically – used to feed cattle. That’s one of the reasons why I try to eat plant-based food as much as I can. After all, there are so many alternatives to milk, meat and eggs that you don’t (really) need to miss these things.

Deforestation is also caused by the growing demand for wood and paper – and there’s a solution to that too. Researchers at MIT have developed a method to grow plant tissue. In a laboratory, without soil, water or sunlight. And without cutting down a single tree. The process can be compared to the production of cultured meat. Using live cells and adding a mixture of plant hormones, the researchers grow a wood-like structure. With time, they expect they will be able to grow this material in a specific shape, such as a ready-made table. The possibilities are endless.

Nor do we need to sacrifice trees to make paper these days. The company Paper on the Rocks, for example, makes paper from stone waste that comes from mines in Taiwan. So it’s a waste product. The stone leftovers are ground to dust, heated and mixed with recycled plastic. The production process is water-free, tree-free and uses only one third of the energy needed to produce ‘regular’ paper. And the beauty is: it can be endlessly recycled.

With smart innovations of this kind, there’s still hope for all those beautiful trees on our planet. And for us too.

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Asceline Groot is ondernemer bij hetkanWEL, schrijfster van ‘Het Nieuwe Groen’ en PhD kandidaat aan de Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen. In haar columns schrijft zij over (start-up) sociale ondernemingen en trends en ontwikkelingen op het gebied van duurzaamheid.