material sustainability

Resource Guide

Are you wondering if a certain material is sustainable? Should you be using it or avoiding it where possible?

Welcome to the Tiny Eco Material Sustainability Resource Guide.

All materials come with some kind of environmental and carbon footprint. But some, of course, are much better than others.

It can be a complicated area with a lot of factors, different supply chains and processing stages at play. This page aims to make things simple and clear to understand by giving you the science-backed information to help you make a more eco friendly choice with your materials.

You can use the menu just below to jump down to a material you have in question.

What makes a material sustainable?

There’s a lot going on when it comes to material sustainability. Working out why one material is more sustainable than another can be a complex task. We’ll try and simmer this down for you, so you can be more informed on live a more sustainable life.

Sustainability in materials refers to the practice of using resources in a way that preserves the natural environment, limits greenhouse gas emissions into the air, and is social responsible.

There are a number of key factors at play that help us determine how sustainable a certain material is. It involves taking into consideration the full product lifecycle assessment, from raw materials to end of life.

How to create an unsustainable material:

🌳 Resource stage – Where do the raw materials come from? Are they responsibly sourced or do they deplete nature? Are they from a renewable source or are they fossil fuel based?

🏭 Manufacturing and production stage – There are lots of sustainability queries here that often get kept underwraps as far as the end product and consumer are concerned. Key questions we need to understand revolve around: energy consumption, water use, chemical use, pollution generated, worker conditions and other ethical considerations.

🚚 Transportation stage – How are the materials distributed? Is it local or is it being freighted across the world? What type of packaging is being used to protect the material?

🔄 User stage – Is the material single use or can it be reused? Is it durable? Does it require upkeep?

♻️ End of life stage – What happens when the material is no longer wanted or needed? Can it be composted or recycled? Or is it destined for landfill? Has circularity been designed into the product from the beginning?
metal tin recycling aluminium

What about an unsustainable material?

We can use the opposite of the above points. Generally speaking, unsustainable materials are much easier to identify.

Here are unsustainable traits to avoid when selecting a material:

How to create an unsustainable material:

❌ Depletes nature, such as causing deforestation or destroying habitats
❌ Fossil fuel based or from a non-renewable resource
❌ Requires a high amount of energy to be extracted, processed and/or manufactured
❌ Involves high uses of water and chemicals
❌ Generates environmentally harmful pollution and excessive waste
❌ Poor and unethical working conditions
❌ Uses plastic packaging
❌ High emission transportation choices
❌ Short lifespan or single use material
❌ Not compostable, recyclable or reusable, so ends up in landfill

Materials Guide: Assessing sustainability

With that base information in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most popular materials you can buy and use.

For each material we’ll take a brief look at four stages: resource/raw materials, production and manufacturing, user stage and end of life. I’ve omitted transport stage as this will vary from business to business, but we’ll comment if the material is generally located and manufactured in one part of the world.

We’ll then categorise each material. Please note, there will be added nuance for each material, depending on how is manufacturing it and some of the ingredients and processes used. But to give you a rule of thumb on the sustainability, each material will be categorised as either:

✅ Highly Sustainable

🟢 Sustainable

🟡 Not Very Sustainable

🔴 Not Sustainable

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