Greening the World With Sustainable Alternatives for Plastics, Timber, and Cotton - Without Missing Them At All

Greening the World With Sustainable Alternatives for Plastics, Timber, and Cotton - Without Missing Them At All

Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning. The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.”

- United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

Even for someone in that position, that is a sweeping statement to make. But the reality is, climate change is happening and it is beginning to cause havoc around the planet. And while it could have been labeled as doom mongering years ago, the data doesn’t lie, The planet has experienced its hottest month for decades and environmental pollution has hurled it towards a crisis point.

Now this blog is not meant to point fingers or to lecture or chastise anyone for using plastics or driving a combustion engine vehicle or not recycling.

It’s merely to highlight one of the fundamental problems with the status quo.

That is we have been harnessing and feeding unsustainable and environmentally harmful industries to provide materials that make up a large percentage of the products that we use in our daily lives. And that there are better options - eco friendly and just as good or if not better than the ‘traditional’ materials that have pervaded the mainstream.

It is undeniable that plastics, timber, and cotton play a vital role in our daily lives. However, their production has resulted in everything from pollution to deforestation and intensive water and pesticide use. Indirectly or directly it has resulted in climate change and severe damage to life in the ecosystems around the world.

Ecosystems that we are part of.

So let's take a little look under the hood at why these ‘traditional’ materials need to be phased out and what sustainable options exist to replace them. Should you want to do a deeper dive into the subject, I’ve added links below that will take you further down that rabbit hole.

Let’s start.

The Traditionals


While they have brought much tremendous convenience to to our lives, they have also become one of the most pressing environmental problems of our time. They take hundreds of years to break down and overconsumption have led to alarming plastic pollution in oceans, rivers, and landfills.

This pollution, particularly from microplastics, is posing severe threats to marine life and ecosystems everywhere, as well as entering our food chain and affecting human health.

Additionally, the production of plastics heavily relies on fossil fuels and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating that which we all have become familiar with: climate change.


Deforestation driven by timber harvesting is a major contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss. Unsustainable logging practices result in the destruction of vast forest ecosystems, disrupting habitats and depleting carbon sinks. Furthermore, leaving soil exposed to the elements can result in degradation and erosion that decreases its ability to support plant life.

Trees are also stores of carbon and cutting them down releases carbon dioxide thus causing greenhouse gas emissions.

There is also the issue of illegal logging, putting indigenous communities and vulnerable animal species at risk. More than ever, we need alternatives to traditional timber that can help preserve forests while still meeting our needs for construction, furniture, and other common byproducts such as paper.


While a staple of the textile industry, it poses significant environmental challenges. Conventional cotton cultivation relies heavily on synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilisers, which contaminate water sources, harm soil quality, and endanger agricultural workers.

Cultivating cotton also requires vast amounts of water, contributing to water scarcity in water-stressed regions and also forcing the creation of energy intensive processes such as irrigation, fertilization, machinery use, and transportation throughout the cotton supply chain contribute to carbon emissions and environmental pollution.

These unsustainable practices are not only ecologically damaging but also harm farming communities.

The Sustainable Alternatives


An eco-friendly alternative to plastic, timber, and cotton, it is known for its fast growth (harvest cycle of 4x a year) and requires fewer resources than conventional crops.

For starters it uses less water than most crops (like cotton) and being a very resilient crop it barely needs fertilisers and pesticides  thanks to the fact that its deep roots allow it to absorb nutrients from lower soil layers. Also it has the property of carbon sequestration and is an excellent carbon sink even in comparison to trees.

Another amazing property of hemp is its ability to phytoremediate - in lay terms, to clean up the soil of toxicity. This enables land to be made arable. One famous use case of this is in Chernobyl where hemp was used to mitigate the effects of radioactive substances in the soil.

The applications of hemp are plenty and to include them all would be well beyond the scope of this blog. However here are some of the most common ones. 

Its fibres have been used to make textiles, rope, twine and paper. It has been used in combination with other materials to create hybrid fabrics as well. It has also been used for the creation of bioplastics, which are far more environmentally friendly than single use plastics derived from fossil fuels.

In the construction industry, it has been used to make hempcrete (mixture of hemp hurts with lime and water) as well and insulation materials. Being a great thermal regulator, hemp can help keep interiors cool in hot weather and warm in colder weather.

As a sustainable alternative, it ticks all the boxes and can help not only reduce deforestation, it can spur entire new industries to foster economic prosperity.


Bamboo is another versatile and sustainable material that can replace timber in various applications. It grows rapidly reaching full maturity within 3 -5 years. Like hemp its water and no pesticide requirements are minimal, it sequesters carbon very well and possesses comparable strength to many types of wood and as such can be used for flooring, furniture, and even in construction as an alternative to traditional lumber.

Most of all its fibres can be weaved to produce soft, silky fabrics that are breathable and anti microbial. It’s therefore that it’s used to make bedding, apparel, swimwear, undergarments and more.


Tencel, also known as lyocell, is a fabric made from sustainable wood pulp and primarily sourced from eucalyptus trees it too uses less water and land for production compared to cotton or other synthetic fibres. It is biodegradable, and It is produced in a closed-loop process, minimizing waste and chemical pollution. Does it pass the eco-friendly test? It most certainly does!

Tencel is soft, breathable, and offers similar characteristics to cotton, making it a desirable eco-friendly alternative for textiles for apparel. It’s fibres can all be used for the creation of accessories like bags and hats as well medical and hygiene products such as wound dressings, disposable towels, baby wipes, and feminine hygiene products. Its high absorbency and softness make it a suitable material for these applications.

Cactus Leather

As an alternative to traditional leather, cactus leather has gained attention for its sustainable and cruelty-free production. Created from the nopal cactus, this material is biodegradable, consumes less water, and doesn't require the use of harmful chemicals associated with conventional leather production.

Its applications are plenty. Primarily used in the fashion industry to create a variety of products such as handbags, wallets, shoes, belts, and clothing. It offers a cruelty-free and more sustainable alternative to traditional leather. And that’s why it has also been utilised in the manufacture of upholstery.

Car brands that switched to cactus leather in some of their models include Mercedes, Tesla and Hyundai. That list is growing.  It’s durability the allows it to also be used for packaging and can be moulded or shaped into protective casings and boxes. 


Very famously used for sealing wine bottles, cork is a renewable and recyclable material that can be used as an alternative to plastic and traditional wood. It is harvested from the bark of cork oak trees, which naturally regenerates making it highly renewable and sustainable. Like hemp and bamboo it doesn’t use much water thanks to its deep roots and it also is an excellent carbon sink sequestering carbon very efficiently.

Cork is lightweight, waterproof, and possesses excellent insulating properties, making it suitable for packaging, flooring but in recent times it has become an incredibly popular material for the manufacture of accessories such as wallets and bags. With its smooth texture, it feels just like leather. In fact it’s eco-friendliness coupled with lightweight attributes has seen it being used to make yoga mats.

Unlike the Traditionals, sustainable materials are not yet used in manufacturing on the same scale. But in the wake of our growing climate crisis their demand can only skyrocket. Psychologically many still see them as a compromised substitute. The truth is, in embracing them and making them part of our daily lives, we aren’t making any compromises. For not only are they earth friendly, but in terms of quality, they are proving to be more than a match for the Traditionals. It’s time that our commercial traditions and not climate had to change.



To go further down the rabbit hole:




Title: Can Cannabis Help Clean Up the Earth?

Produced by: BBC REEL


Title: Plastic is Accelerating the Climate Crisis

Produced by: Center for International Environmental Law


Title: Why Plastic Pollution Is Even Worse Than You Think

Produced by: Our Changing Climate


Title: Climate 101: Deforestation | National Geographic

Produced by: National Geographic


Title: Environmental Impacts of Cotton



Title: Why This Plant Could Save the World

Produced by: Our Changing Climate


Title: Bamboo : The Construction Material of the Future I eco friendly sustainable green building material

Produced by: Design - Essentialz


Title: Cork: Is this nature's most versatile material?

Produced by: BBC REEL



Title: Cork: Sustainable Gift | Cool Cork Products

Produced by: DTC World Corporation


Title: Curiosity Series: Cactus Leather

Produced by: Desert Botanical Garden


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