The materials a product is made of have the biggest influence on whether it can be considered eco-friendly or not. We expect eco-friendly materials to be either very durable and long-lasting or very easy to biodegrade.
Read next: Our guidelines for choosing eco-friendly products
5 Natural Eco-Friendly Materials
Humans have been using glass for thousands of years, and to this day it’s among humanity’s most abundant materials. There’s good reason for it. Glass is a solid and smooth material, it’s easy to clean and can be reused almost indefinitely. That alone makes it very eco-friendly. It doesn’t dissolve in the environment – but can be recycled very easily.
One disadvantage of glass eco-friendliness is how fragile it is. Since products made of glass are easy to break, it’s usually heavily wrapped with packaging to survive the delivery.
Unfortunately, the packaging in question usually involves plastics.
Wood products carry a set of features that make them eco-friendly. They are made of organic matter and when thrown away, it biodegrades very quickly. Also wood is a easy to work with and to shape.
The disadvantage of wood is its intolerance to water, attractiveness to termites and low flare point. Those qualities tend to force wood products to be coated with non-eco friendly substances.
There’s a debate about whether the wood industry is eco-friendly enough or not. Many see it as ruining nature and interfering with natural habitats of the forest. Others claim the wood industry has the lowest carbon footprint of all other building material industries.
Materials derived from plants are broadly considered eco-friendly materials. Things like corn starch, bamboo, cassava starch, natural rubber, cotton, and hemp are naturally produced, biodegrade fast and can also be made to last very long.
Disadvantages derive from the manufacturing process of some of these materials into products. Textile industry is using a lot of cotton – but it adds many chemicals to it, and uses an immense amount of water – later all these chemicals find their way into the environment.
Similar to glass in its features, only not transparent, clay is popular among eco-friendly materials. Mainly in the cutlery industry, clay doesn’t have many competitors. It’s easy to wash but not easy to break. High fire-resistance makes it easy to use in ovens.
Clay disadvantages are similar to what you’ll find with glass – mostly with the delivery process and packaging.
Metals like iron, aluminum, nickel, gold and more are considered eco-friendly materials because of their durability. Nevertheless, metals have electric qualities that no other natural eco-friendly materials have.
Metals are strong and can last a long time if taken care of properly. They can also be recycled and reused quite easily.
However, they’re not a renewable source, and metal production comes from mining, which in many cases hurts the environment.