Updates & Blog

You’ll never believe these 6 products come from trees

Chelsea Ealum
Communications Director
Southern Group of State Foresters
hand holding a single pill, with the message "yep, there's a tree in there.." with an arrow pointing to the pill

Celebrating National Forest Products Week

October 15-22, 2023

The U.S. South, nicknamed the world’s wood basket, accounts for over half of all sustainable timber production in the country and generates more than $251 billion (about $770 per person in the U.S.) annually in economic contributions. In fact, our southern forests provide for more than 18% of the world’s pulpwood for paper and paper-related products, 7% of the world’s industrial roundwood and provides more than 1.1 million jobs. 

While timber and its many by-products are the primary resource generated by well-managed, sustainable working forests, each southern state has its own unique mix of wood resources, services, manufacturing innovations and investment opportunities. Some forest products that commonly come to mind include paper, lumber for construction, furniture, flooring, mulch and resin. However, in honor of National Forest Products Week, we endeavor to highlight some of the products you might not expect contain material from trees.


pharmacists consulting a patient at a pharmacy

Wood-derived materials can be added to medications as inactive ingredients to aid formulation, stability or administration. For instance, cellulose derivatives obtained from the wood pulping process, such as microcrystalline cellulose or powdered cellulose, help provide structural integrity, control drug release and promote tablet disintegration. Wood-derived materials can also be used to produce capsule shells. For example, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, a wood cellulose derivative, is commonly used as a vegan alternative to gelatin capsules and is suitable for various pharmaceutical applications.


Closeup of a rack of multiple color tee shirts

Wood pulp is commonly used in the textile industry to produce a type of fiber known as rayon or viscose. Rayon is considered a semi-synthetic fiber and is made from regenerated cellulose, derived from wood pulp. These fibers are lightweight, breathable and effectively absorb moisture, making rayon an ideal textile for clothing worn during hot southern summers. In addition to clothing, rayon is often used in the production of bedding, curtains and upholstery.

Wood pulp-based rayon has gained popularity as a more sustainable alternative to synthetic fibers like polyester. It is derived from renewable sources and can be produced in a closed-loop process, where chemicals and solvents are recycled.

Aromas and Flavorings

African American woman with a cardboard box in her lap, sampling a new perfume by spraying it on her wrist

During the closed-loop wood pulping process, terpenes are extracted from the waste stream and recycled. This extraction process not only reduces emissions and waste but allows for the recovery and utilization of this valuable compound for other applications.

After extraction, the terpenes undergo a process to remove impurities and isolate desired compounds. This step ensures the terpenes are of high quality and suitable for fragrance and flavor applications. Once purified, the terpenes are then formulated to mimic other fragrance or flavor components, such as rose or mint, and then applied to various products such as perfumes, soaps, candles, household products, snacks, beverages, dental hygiene products and more.


Man at a grocery store putting a tomato in a plastic bag made from trees

Cellulose acetate is a type of bioplastic derived from cellulose, which is used due to its abundance and suitability to polymerization. Cellulose acetate, created through the chemical modification of cellulose, is a versatile material with various applications across multiple industries. It can be shaped into a variety of forms to create films, fibers or solid objects. Some common applications include food packaging, filters and medical products.

Cellulose acetate offers a biodegradable and renewable alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastics. While not all cellulose acetate products are designed to biodegrade or compost, some cellulose acetate materials can biodegrade under certain conditions or through industrial composting. Ongoing research aims to further improve the properties, sustainability and end-of-life options for cellulose acetate products.

Low-calorie and Reduced-fat Foods

closeup of a person's hands with holding two halves of a granola bar in each hand.

Powdered cellulose and microcrystalline cellulose have been approved by the FDA as food additives for several decades. In fact, the cellulose molecule that comes from wood pulp is the very same cellulose naturally present fruits and vegetables. Cellulose can add structure and bulk to food products without significantly contributing to their caloric content, while also mimicking the texture and mouthfeel of fats. It is often used in low-calorie and reduced-fat foods to improve the tasting experience and replace fat content.


closeup of a green gas pump that says "biofuel" filling up a car's gas tank

With its vast forest resources, the southern United States has naturally become a hub for the development of renewable energy alternatives from trees. Forest biomass, which can be converted into energy-producing resources, is derived from tree trimmings, logging slash, forest thinnings, roundwood that has no other market, residuals from forest product mills (e.g., sawdust, bark and wood chips) and other organic matter.

  • Wood pellets, made from compressed sawdust, wood shavings and other residual materials, are efficient at generating heat and electricity. When burned, wood pellets keep the carbon cycle in balance by releasing approximately the same amount of carbon dioxide, when burned, as the source trees absorbed during their growth.
  • Syngas, also derived from forest biomass, can be used in gas turbines, internal combustion engines or boilers to generate electricity or heat, providing a cleaner-burning fuel option with lower emissions than traditional fossil fuels.
  • high-octane biogas, or biomethane, is created when bacteria break down forest biomass without oxygen and additional upgrading processes are applied. The biomethane gas can be injected into the natural gas grid or used as transportation fuel. With limits to electric transportation in sectors like aviation and long-distance trucking, the use of low-value woody biomass for high-octane biogas helps mitigate climate change, while maintaining our existing infrastructure and lifestyles.

Private forest landowners, who own 86% of forestland in the South, are committed to upholding responsible forestry practices while participating in traditional and forest product markets to maintain the economic viability of their lands. Sustainable use of southern forests involves striking a balance between utilizing forest resources for various products and services while conserving their ecological integrity and long-term viability.