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From the October 2011 Conservationist

A cross-section through a log showing growth rings

Wonderful Wood

Forest products are part of everyday life

By Gloria Van Duyne

While digging through my purse to locate a pen, one of my co-workers commented that the tube of toothpaste I had just dumped onto my desk contained wood. I laughed, but then realized he was serious, so I asked him to explain. He then described how cellulose and chemicals derived from wood are used as fiber filler for plastics (tool handles, football helmets and eyeglass frames), and also ingredients in hairspray, cosmetics and my toothpaste.

A wooden sideboard with a painting above in a room
Photo: Stickley Furniture

Of course, I was very familiar with the usual uses of wood (for furniture making and firewood), but I'd never really thought about other uses and products. I mean, wood in my toothpaste and lipstick-who knew?

Our discussion expanded to the topic of cellulose-the basic building block of the cell walls of all plants, and considered a complex carbohydrate-from wood, and how it is increasingly used in processed foods: high fiber foods (crackers, breads and waffles), diet drink mixes, food texture enhancers, food thickeners (used in ketchup and pancake syrup) and as a substitute for fat in ice cream.

When I went home that night, I decided to look around my house, and was surprised by what I found. I never realized how many things are made from wood, and how much of it was created from tree species that grow in New York.

On first glance, the obvious items in my house stood out: hardwood floors, desks, book cases, beds, dressers, tables and chairs, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, picture frames, and the guitar and piano. But as I looked closer, I realized there was so much more, such as the siding, decking and framing-studs, joists, rafters-of the house, as well as the framing in my couch and upholstered chairs. In fact, as I really examined my home, I spied a seemingly endless number of things made from wood.

Everyday items like cooking spoons, kebob skewers, matches, cutting board, board games, ping pong paddles, closet doors and molding were all made from wood. I also found boxes and packaging for everything from staples and other office supplies to all kinds of food packages including juice boxes, milk cartons, egg containers, and frozen dinners, just to name a few. Looking in my garage and outside I noted the tool handles, my mailbox, trellises, bark mulch, firewood and bird houses. The list went on and on.

When I added in the paper products-books, photos, greeting cards, printer paper, toilet paper, napkins, my son's homework-it seemed as though virtually everything was connected to wood. Even the labels on plastic, glass and metal cans were made from paper!

Everyday items containing wood: lipstick, toothpaste, cereal, toys and vitamins
Many everyday items are made of wood
or contain wood cellulose, including
toothpaste, high-fiber cereal, witamins and
children's toys.

Recalling my earlier discussion at work, I read labels and discovered cellulose listed as an ingredient in my hairspray, toothpaste, liquid nail polish, soap, laundry detergent, and several of my cosmetics, including my mascara and lipstick. Likewise, the crackers and pancake mix in the cupboard, and the ice cream in my freezer also contained a form of cellulose. To me, it was fascinating and exciting, and it reinforced my feelings about the importance of our wood industry. I've always been proud to be involved with forestry-especially the renewable resource aspect of it-and love the fact that our trees provide so many benefits.

When it comes right down to it, trees are amazing. They provide us with basic amenities (food and shelter); can be used for fuel, furniture, toys, fabric; and are part of an endless list of products we use every day. I take comfort in the fact that when managed sustainably, our forests will continue to provide these valuable resources for future generations.

Gloria Van Duyne works for DEC's Division of Lands and Forests.