What do you drink from at home? If you have small children, your cabinet is likely to include a lot of plastic, containers, some with various cartoon characters imprinted on the sides. The proper name for these, whether they come from Macy’s or McDonald’s, is often a “tumbler.” The origin of that term is a bit winding for this page, and a bit beside the point, which is this: ever call such a vessel a glass? Yeah, me too. It’s been a long time since the word glass referred exclusively to the material that bears the name. Its name is now forever attached to its most common use, a vessel for containing a beverage, whatever that vessel is actually made from.
Sticklers among us will insist on more specific nomenclature. Glasses are glass; tumblers may or may not be. Not all facial tissue is Kleenex (a brand name, after all) and a Slurpy shouldn’t be confused with a Slushy or a Mister Misty. But those sticklers, in my view are missing the point: successful products often define entire categories with their names, which must therefore encompass a wide range of attributes that pass well beyond a simple name, whatever its origins.
Paper Water Bottle, for example—its name is a bit more complex than you might think. Paper, for instance is really shorthand. It’s a ready reference to the most common pulp product with which we’re all familiar. Most elementary schoolers don’t advance too far without hearing and assimilating the story of the paper they use everyday. Wood is harvested from trees, ground to a mushy, wet pulp, then laid in sheets to dry. I’m oversimplifying, but that’s just the point: the word paper signifies a process understood by virtually everyone, at least at a high level.
That said, it’s worth looking at the limits of the analogy. The tree, as a large recognizable plant, is a great symbol of a renewable resource, one the paper and lumber industries strive to make more sustainable over the years. Still, we’d rather not cut down trees if we don’t have to.
And, as it turns out, we don’t. There are other sources for pulp—a lot of them, in fact. Bamboo is one that probably makes sense to most of us. More surprising choices include wheat or rice. And, of course, we can recycle fiber too. The most common source? Wood-based paper products. The source really depends on the use. Food packaging for instance, requires some sort of first-use plant material. Things like molded pulp flower pots can be made from recycled pulp.
Once the pulp source is selected, the process is mostly what we’ve all come to know: the pulp is grounded, pounded, and soaked into submission, then bent to our purpose, whether that’s flat sheets or many-pocketed packaging protectors, or, indeed “paper” plates, which may not in fact be paper at all.
“A rose by any other name,” Shakespeare argued, “would smell as sweet.” That was his way of saying, “Come on; you know what I mean.” We refer to things based on their function, their form, and the feelings they conjure up. In the case of pulp, we are imagining the thousand things it will resemble when finally formed: a plate, a flower pot, or even a Refreshing Alternative like a Paper Water Bottle®.