Products and use of resources
Our trees will have been growing for 60–120 years by the time they are harvested. We therefore have a particular responsibility to produce the right products from every part of the tree and to make the very best use of the raw material.
How do we optimise the use of every log?
When the logs arrive at the sawmill, considerable resources are mobilised to get the most out of each log, both financially and in terms of volume. Each log is unique when it comes to shape, structure and quality. Matching each log to a potential, saleable wood product and achieving a high yield is a highly complex job.
This process has made great advances in recent years with the help of digital tools. Modern x-ray technology allows the sawmills to see knot structures, heartwood ratios and other properties before the log has come anywhere near a saw. This allows the mills to quickly make reliable assessments of which product will maximise the use of each log. Will it become a wood floor in Sweden, a stud wall in the USA, packaging material in the UK or decking in Norway? The technique of x-raying logs is constantly advancing, as is the precision of the choices being made. This development is also accompanied by work on improved sawing precision, thinner sawblades and better drying methods – all to increase what we get out of the raw material.
What do we mean by a renewable raw material?
A “renewable resource” is a natural resource that is depleted more slowly than it regenerates. The benefit of forest raw material is that it is both renewable and circular.
Paper fibre can be reused up to 25 times, after which it can be turned into a biofuel and put to use one last time.
What is the difference between fossil and bio-based products?
Oil is an example of a fossil raw material. It is actually made of plants that have been pressed down into the Earth’s crust and subjected to high pressure over millennia. Because it takes such an incredibly long time to create oil, it is considered a finite resource. And when we burn it, it changes the natural balance in the carbon ecocycle of the planet, while raw materials from the forest, soil and sea are part of a natural ecocycle based around photosynthesis.
So there is a difference between fossil carbon emissions (which we get from burning oil, for example) and biogenic carbon emissions (which we get from burning firewood, for example). The fossil carbon emissions add to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Biogenic carbon emissions are part of a constant cycling of carbon atoms between the atmosphere and the biosphere.
Would we still need to harvest the forest if we consumed less?
Substituting finite, fossil products with renewable, bio-based products is part of the solution to climate change, resulting in more sustainable consumption. It will no doubt be important in the future to reduce our overall consumption of raw materials, particularly those that are not part of a circular system.
Products made from fossil and finite raw materials, which are not circular, should be phased out first, because they add bound carbon atoms to the atmosphere. Then we can begin to reduce our demand for renewable materials. However, this kind of transition takes a long time. Reducing the use of renewable raw materials today would result in higher demand for fossil materials.
It is also worth remembering that many of the products we make from the forest currently fulfil important social functions. Packaging in the food industry protects the food and reduces our food waste. Hygiene products are important for reducing the spread of diseases. Access to period products is important in enabling women the world over to participate equally and actively in society.
The list of vital products from the forest that improve our quality of life is a long one. Ending their use would have major negative impacts on daily life.
A growing bio-economy
The bio-economy is a growing field within research, business and politics, and one that is closely associated with the transition from fossil to renewable resources. One of its main focuses is on wood and other cellulose-based materials, including building materials, paper/pulp, biofuel, nano-cellulose and bioplastic.
BioInnovation is an innovation programme from the Swedish Government aimed at creating the best possible foundation for developing new bio-based materials, products and services.