In this age of dwindling forests and shrinking natural resources, users of raw materials – companies like Crescent – must make wise decisions in order to protect the environment. As part of our sustainability initiatives, we assess substances—when two or more can be used for an application—based on their renewability, efficiency and environmental impact.
One of our core businesses here at Crescent is manufacturing matboards. It has been for decades. We know that both wood- and cotton-based matboards meet the needs of today’s picture framing industry, but how do they compare from an environmental impact standpoint?
Farmers harvest and replant cotton annually, making it an extremely renewable resource. By contrast, trees have a growth cycle of several decades, which impedes their renewability significantly.
In fact, the time to grow a harvestable tree is approximately 10 to 100 times greater than the time to produce cotton. With its high tolerance to heat and drought, cotton thrives under adverse conditions and can therefore be grown in areas that support few other useful crops. Also adding to cotton’s positive environmental impact is that it requires a lower volume of plant nutrients than many other cultivated crops.
Wood is an indispensable raw material in applications such as construction and furniture production where strength is required. Its strength is derived from lignin, which is the structural glue that binds the cellulose together. Lignin accounts for up to 25 percent of the tree while only 50 percent of the tree consists of cellulose – the substance from which paper is made. As a result, when trees are used for papermaking and subsequently manufacturing matboards, half of the tree may be completely wasted. And because the harsh processing required to remove the lignin renders some of the cellulose unusable, the waste can climb as high as two-thirds. On average, due to the extraction of water, it takes four tons of wood to make one ton of paper.
In contrast, cotton in its natural state consists of virtually pure cellulose pulp, so essentially all fiber obtained from the cotton plant can be used. In fact, cotton sets the standard for efficient use of a renewable resource—almost all of the plant is utilized. The long cotton fibers from the boll are primarily dedicated to the textile industry. Linters, the shorter fibers that adhere to the seeds, are used for paper production and manufacturing matboards. Oils are extracted from the cottonseed. Even the seed hulls can be pressed into cakes for livestock feed.
Because they grow only for one season, cotton plants do not develop the high levels of lignin that bind tree cellulose fibers together. This means the fibers can be pulped with significantly fewer chemicals, and with less energy and water. When it comes to manufacturing matboards, cotton fiber is naturally white, so the amount of bleaching needed is comparatively minimal and mild to that of chemical wood pulp processing.
Trees have enormous environmental impact because of their many integral and irreplaceable attributes. They provide a habitat and sanctuary for numerous forms of wildlife. Trees also are natural regulators of the atmosphere—they absorb and filter pollutant gases and replenish them with life-giving oxygen. Wide-scale destruction of any forested area on the planet not only upsets the natural balance of our environment, it also results in increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This contributes to the rise of greenhouse gases and global warming.
With the rapid increase in the world’s population and the growing demand for raw materials, we as industry leaders need to raise the bar for using renewable resources. To maintain a balance between supply and demand when manufacturing matboards, it is necessary to rely on the renewability of the cotton plant.
For centuries, cotton fiber has been the standard for paper quality due to its physical durability and resistance to heat and chemical attack. Not only does cotton paper have a proven longevity of over 500 years, it is also the ecologically correct choice for protecting and maintaining our environment. That’s why at Crescent, our RagMat line of premium, conservation matboard is made from 100 percent cotton—a naturally pure and sustainable product.