Contrary to popular belief, trees aren’t just planted to make the cardboard box your shiny new printer came in or the copy paper you use to print your reports. Wood byproducts are used in a diverse, surprising, range of industries, outside paper production.
If you’ve eaten a burger, taken a shower or painted your nails in the last 24 hours, chances are you’ve come into contact with a common wood byproduct, wood pulp – without even knowing it. Believe it or not, this prolific wonder material can be found in an array of unexpected everyday items.
Wood pulp is naturally derived from trees, cotton and other plant materials. It’s lightweight, strong, a conductor of electricity, isn’t harmful to humans and can be produced at almost no cost.
Ready to find out more about this versatile material? In this article, we are going to be exploring seven surprising uses for wood pulp that you may not have known before.
1. Fast food
Many leading fast food chains serve items that contain wood pulp. Wood pulp in food acts as an additive often present in shredded cheese, bagels, fish fillet patties, sausage, tortillas, onion rings, hot sauces, pancakes and even milkshakes. With complementary chemicals, cellulose adds texture, thickens and stabilises food – and is safe for human consumption. Without it, ice cream would melt faster.
2. Bath towels
Some bath towels are made with a by-product of wood pulp known as rayon. Rayon is highly absorbent, soft and comfortable on the skin, but doesn’t insulate body heat – ideal for use in hot and humid climates. Wet wipes are also often made with rayon, as it allows each sheet to hold disinfecting liquid while maintaining its texture and shape.
Toothpastes can contain a form of wood pulp called carboxymethyl cellulose, which is used for its high viscosity, non-toxicity and hypoallergenic properties. Without cellulose, toothpaste wouldn’t be able to bind easily with water molecules.
4. Nail polish
Cellulose is added to nail polish as nitrocellulose because of its strength and quick-drying properties. Nitrocellulose is also added to leather finishes, wood varnishes, and printing inks.
5. Ping pong balls
Nitrocellulose is used to produce celluloid, which, in turn, is used to make ping pong balls. Celluloid is easily molded and shaped, while still remaining bouncy.
It’s also used to create guitar picks.
6. Some paints
Hydroxyethyl cellulose is a key additive in some paints. Its importance stems from its gelling and thickening properties that allow the paint to bind properly to a surface resulting in smooth glossy walls with no defects.
7. Medication and supplements
The next time you pop that pill, remember that it contains refined microcrystalline cellulose as a pill filler. This helps to break down the pill at the proper rate for maximum absorption.
Sunscreen contains cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) — rod-like nanoparticles extracted from cellulose fibers via chemical treatment. They help boost the sunscreen’s UV‐shielding performance when you’re having fun in the sun.
These are a few of the applications of wood pulp, although there are many more. It’s amazing to think that the humble tree can give us the materials to help take care of our bodies. We hope that you enjoyed finding out more about how wood pulp can find its way into quite a few items you may not have expected.