The Waxed-Paper Doughnut That’s Saving Trees
Posted on 02
Desertification is a growing problem—or perhaps more accurately a non-growing problem—in many parts of the world. Planting trees, or afforestation, is one way to combat desertification, but it works only if the trees survive; in many areas the survival rate has been dismal. As this article points out, the poor-quality soils in affected areas often don’t give saplings—let alone seeds—much of a chance, “but if a young tree becomes large enough that its roots can reach groundwater, it stands an excellent chance of thriving.”
A Dutch environmentalist has found a low-cost way to increase the trees’ likelihood of surviving—without irrigation. His invention, the article explains, is “a doughnut-shaped waxed-paper cocoon, the base of which is buried underground. It contains the sapling, enough water to sustain the tree while it establishes a root system, and a small lozenge of beneficial fungi. The cocoon is cheap, easy to plant, scalable—a community can plant hundreds of acres of them in a short time—and biodegradable.”
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That last part is critical and deceptively tricky. As the inventor, Jurriaan Ruys, points out, “You want a thing to work over a period of time, then completely disappear. It’s hard to do, which is why, as consumers, we still buy plastic.” He developed a wax coating that lasts just long enough and a special wick to deliver the right amount of water to the tree. He and a partner have formed a company and have provided 250,000 of the low-tech devices in 20 countries, including Cameroon, Chile, China, Dubai, Greece, Israel, Italy, Malawi, Mexico, Peru, Spain, and the US. The survival rate for trees planted in this way is as high as 95%, as opposed to 10 to 20% for other methods.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Dutch innovations in water management and linked to this article, which says climate change is presenting a business opportunity for the Netherlands, as other countries “often end up hiring Dutch firms, which dominate the global market in high-tech engineering and water management.” Ruys sees the same opportunity for all kinds of environmental technologies, including satellite and GPS systems that are already used by the agriculture industry (his company is now developing an app, for example, to provide real-time monitoring of the trees he plants). In the long term, he says, commercialization of these technologies will be our best shot at addressing climate change. In the meantime, his waxed-paper doughnuts are reforesting regions where trees have been cleared for fuel, providing new fuel and shelter for refugee camps in the desert, and creating new habitats for threatened species.