Gabon pushing for certified timber

Gabon Advanced Wood Sarl (GAW) is a company in Gabon which holds a timber concession. It recently obtained a new Forest Stewardship Council™ forest management certificate for its Ogooué concession in the south of Gabon, located in the Haut Ogooué and Ogooué Lolo provinces.

The company’s operations are located in the town of Moanda and supply certified logs to processing industries established in the Nkok Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a 1126 ha multi-sectoral industrial park located 27 km from Libreville. It includes industrial, commercial and residential zones. In its entirety, it brings together 144 companies from 19 countries operating in 22 industrial sectors, including a cluster of 84 companies dedicated to wood processing. (https://www.gsez.com/).

The Ogooué concession covers 179 861 hectares of forests, including 25 996 hectares of strictly conservation area. The concession includes about 309 inventoried tree species and iconic and threatened mammalian species such as elephants, chimpanzees and gorillas.

This is the first FSC forest management certificate in Gabon since 2014 and an important milestone for Gabon's ambition to have all their forest concessions certified by 2025. With this certificate, the total area of natural forest responsibly managed in Gabon under FSC certification reaches 2 241 051 hectares.
There are now more than 5.5 million hectares of FSC certified forest in three countries of the Congo Basin: Cameroon (341 708 ha), Gabon (2 241 051 ha) and the Republic of Congo (2 989 168 ha).

Covered 85% by forest, on 22 million hectares, Gabon has a stock of exploitable wood of 130 million m3 of Okoumé and 270 million m3 of other species. GSEZ has enabled the country to develop and modernise a wood sector that was previously not very promising by relying on specialisation, one-stop services and alignment with the national development strategy. With 3.4 million m3 produced each year, Gabon has become Africa’s leading producer and exporter of tropical plywood, and the world’s second largest exporter. The country intends to go further in adding value to its wood products by transforming GSEZ into a centre for the manufacture of "Made in Gabon" furniture by 2025.

Faced with growing demand, GSEZ has made sustainability, traceability and certification of wood sourced in Gabon and processed at its facilities one of its priorities. All of Gabon’s forest concessions are operated according to the sustainable forest management practices prescribed by the Gabonese Forest Code. In terms of traceability, since October 2018, GSEZ has benefited from the services of the Tracer-Nkok agency, which filters the logs entering the zone in order to limit the risk of illegal timber as much as possible. By 2022, all the country’s forest concessions will be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and/or PEFC Gabon in order to improve the traceability of the wood and ensure respect for communities and workers.


New look Sawmilling SA

To celebrate the International Day of Forests on March 21, Sawmilling South Africa (SSA) has come up with a new logo and visual identity that focuses on the role that responsibly sourced and processed wood can play in providing solutions fit for a future sustainable world.

"Getting people to recognise the value of timber in the built environment will be set in motion by our modernised visual identity and corporate logo, and will be directed by our new positioning statement: 'We saw the future'," explains Roy Southey, SSA’s executive director.

"We saw the future - demonstrates that we use renewable and responsibly sourced timber to saw products that are aimed at the future of sustainable, low-carbon design, architecture and construction. It fundamentally embodies our vision for the timber industry in South Africa and globally," says Southey.

"There is a unique climate case for wood as it is deemed as the only structural material that can naturally and significantly decarbonise our planet, both through the growing of trees (which sequester carbon dioxide and release oxygen) and by harvesting them at the right time, which locks up the carbon in sustainable quantities for many years to come. In fact, trees absorb about two tonnes of carbon dioxide to create one tonne of their own (dry) mass[i]," he points out.

SSA is an industry association that represents around 50 sawmilling companies, collectively employing approximately 12,000 people, predominantly in the rural areas of South Africa.

Sawmills transform roundwood – in other words, logs – into a variety of sawn timber products, including structural lumber for the building and construction industry and industrial lumber for the furniture, joinery and packaging sectors.

Globally, urban populations are growing, requiring cities to become more dense, often by building upwards. At the same time, we are facing a climate crisis. The global built environment is currently responsible for approximately 40% of global energy related CO2 emissions[ii], with emissions stemming from two main sources: the energy consumed within buildings for heating, cooling and power (operational emissions) and the emissions associated with the extraction, processing and manufacture of building materials like concrete, bricks and steel (embodied emissions).

Harvested wood products, which store carbon, can be a substitute for carbon intensive materials such as steel and concrete in construction. However, in South Africa where mass timber buildings are not commonplace, people tend to think only of log cabins, or conventional roof trusses. Recent technologies, however, are harnessing the natural strength of timber and improving it, engineering a new range of timber that can be used for mass timber buildings and high-rise construction.

"South Africa is ripe for scaling up the use of timber in construction, however many people perceive wood as rudimentary or weak. But for engineering professionals and architects of mass timber structures, there is significant opportunity for innovation, localisation and employment creation," says Southey.

Cape Town-based agency Creative Caterpillar was given the task to visually reflect SSA's renewed focus and vision, resulting in the association's brand transformation. "The team adopted a contemporary, future-minded approach when re-imagining the SSA logo, which made it possible to step away from our previous, more literal logo and embrace a more inclusive and relatable design for all stakeholders in the industry," says Southey.

The evolution of the corporate logo with its refreshed colour palette of orange (representing creativity and innovation) and olive green (representing nature and growth) has given the sector a renewed focus on the role that wood can play in building a sustainable future.

Celebrating Global Recycling Day

To celebrate Global Recycling Day on Friday 18th March, the Fibre Circle has joined forces with two local packaging companies to empower 200 informal collectors with important info about paper and packaging recycling.

Fibre Circle, the producer responsibility organisation for the paper sector, has teamed up with food service and packaging producer Detpak and Remade Recycling (part of the Mpact Group) to show 200 recycling collectors that paper grocery bags and brown take-away food bags can be collected from households and sold with their waste paper collections.

The circular waste economy is a thriving network of collectors, buyers and processors, which uses recyclable material such as waste paper to make new products. Every year, more than 1.1 million tonnes of paper and paper packaging are recovered in South Africa and recycled into new products which can be recycled again and again, in many cases up to 25 times.

Paper recycling is largely based on different grades of paper. In industry speak cardboard boxes are termed ‘K4’ while used white office paper is termed ‘HL1’ (heavy letter 1). Cereal boxes, egg cartons and other similar paper items are deemed common mixed waste, or ‘CMW’.

The average consumer only needs to know whether something is recyclable or not, whereas waste collectors who sell to buy-back centres need to know exactly what they are selling and how much it is worth. It is important for the respective grades to be separated and baled together as they form the ingredients for the paper products they will be used to produce.

“Old cardboard boxes and paper bags will be re-pulped into other paper types – these will become new cardboard boxes and paper bags, and so the cycle continues,” explains Fibre Circle communications manager Samantha Choles.

Used white paper is recycled into tissue products such as toilet paper while several paper grades are recycled into common household packaging such as matchboxes, tooth paste boxes and cereal boxes.

“With paper bags now synonymous with suburban and city-based grocery deliveries after Covid kept many of us away from supermarkets, Detpak and its customers felt that it was important to close the loop with the production and recycling of paper bags,” explains Carla Breytenbach, marketing manager for Detpak.

In the run-up to World Recycling Day groups of informal waste collectors were invited to a discussion and demonstration by Anele Sololo, manager for education and SMME development at Fibre Circle, at Remade Recycling’s Midrand branch. Each collector received a pie and soft drink, along with a paper goodie bag containing a reflective T-shirt, sun hat, safety gloves, fresh fruit and a box of Smarties (in a recyclable paper box).

“Safety and visibility is a key aspect in the lives of collectors who navigate the busy streets of our suburbs daily making an honest living,” notes Donna-Mari Noble, communications manager for the Mpact Group’s Recycling business.

Consumers are encouraged to put recyclables such as cardboard boxes, pizza boxes, grocery bags and other similar packaging on the pavement for recycling collectors.

For more information on what paper and packaging materials are recyclable, visit https://fibrecircle.co.za/promotional-material/

Other everyday materials that can be recycled include:-
Wood - Wood is renowned for being one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable materials available due to the ability of growing trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the wood, which can be recycled countless times. Take care, however, to ensure that the wood is sourced from sustainably managed forests in the first place, which can be verified by an FSC or PEFC label.

Glass - Glass is infinitely recyclable. Made from all-natural sources such as sand, soda ash and limestone, glass never loses its purity, regardless of how many times it enters the recycling chain. The cost savings of recycling glass lies in the use of energy. Broken or waste glass melts at a lower temperature compared to making glass from raw materials for the first time. It also reduces air and water pollution in the manufacturing process.

Plastic - This material takes up to 450 years to decompose in a landfill. Plastic straws alone take up to 200 years to break down. The reason behind its slow degradation is that the materials used to produce plastic do not exist naturally. However plastic can be recycled, and may in future be used in the building sector. Plastic is strong, durable, waterproof, lightweight, easy to mould, and recyclable – all key properties for use as a construction material.

Metals - Almost all metals are recyclable with the process not impacting the material’s properties. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, steel is the most recycled material on the planet. Other highly recyclable metals include aluminium, copper, silver, brass and gold.

Conservation and forestry

The NCT Tree Farmer of the Year is awarded annually to tree farming operations that display excellence in sustainable plantation management. Candidates for the award are assessed against broad sustainability principles.

The 2021 winners in the Commercial Tree Farmer category are Brendon Raw and his wife Ninette, who manage their forestry business from a smallholding in the Karkloof in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. They have built up an integrated timber business including 1 000 ha of plantations and a sawmill.

Brendon and Ninette are also enthusiastic conservationists, and have taken on the role of protecting highly sensitive grasslands and wetlands at the headwaters of a major catchment that feeds into the Umgeni River which serves agriculture, industry and rural and urban settlements all the way from the Karkloof to the coast. These grasslands and wetlands are teeming with wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. The conservation areas have been successfully integrated into their highly productive plantation operation which produces sawlogs for their own sawmill and other markets.

NCT Forestry is a leading marketing co-operative catering for the needs of independent timber growers in South Africa. It has 1 800 shareholders/members who collectively own 300 000 ha of timber, which constitutes 21% of afforested land in SA.

See the video here...

Taking sustainability beyond the balance sheet

Husqvarna SA Managing Director Pieter Smuts explains how their approach to sustainability goes way beyond the core business of supplying and supporting a range of land care equipment, and has become a way of life …

“When I returned to the forestry and garden division of Husqvarna three years ago, I faced a number of key business challenges. Back then, I decided that we were going to have to do things differently. You can’t simply continue as before and expect different results,” said Pieter Smuts, Husqvarna SA Managing Director.

“Some people have a perception that Husqvarna simply sells chain saws to cut down trees, ultimately damaging the environment. That is not true. We do a lot of work – globally and locally - to prevent that and to support sustainable businesses.

“In those earliest days when we were looking at how to take this forward, we used one of Husqvarna’s global studies entitled Urban Parks 2030 to help guide our decisions. This showed that our green spaces – gardens, parks and forests – were going to be more important than ever. The pandemic, lockdown and various health issues have taken this concept a step further, showing that green spaces are important for addressing issues like climate change, air and water quality and biodiversity as well as the mental and physical well-being of people.

“Respondents in that study noted that green spaces needed to be cared for differently and that those responsible needed to take a silent, non-invasive and sustainable approach. We have embraced this through our concept of Silent Nature™ and a range of quiet but powerful tools that include chainsaws, trimmers, brush cutters and blowers. These rely on efficient and long-lasting lithium ion batteries that produce lower emissions while eliminating noise pollution,” explained Pieter.

But these tools are also being used to tackle bigger issues and challenges.

“For instance our hand-held lithium ion powered chainsaws are now the tool of choice for the courageous conservationists who are de-horning rhinos to discourage poachers. They are not only easy to carry but powerful enough to get this process completed as quickly and quietly as possible with minimal trauma to the animal.”

Pieter said that Husqvarna has taken sustainability a step further by launching a veld management division that is providing both the tools and the technology to help farmers, nature and conservation organisations, landowners and land managers to deal with land management challenges.

“It is only now that we are experiencing the sometimes devastating results of over 100 years of bad practices. We can see that drought, changes in rainfall patterns, bush encroachment, encroachment by alien invasive plants and other contributing factors brought on by climate change have all but changed land use in sub-Saharan Africa. That is before we even begin to address issues like over-grazing, soil erosion and poor water management.

“We realised that many of our open spaces and grasslands no longer look the way they used to. In fact, many no longer exist and have been overtaken by bush and forests that should never have been there in the first place. Sadly, this includes both alien and indigenous plants and means that we now have a responsibility to intervene to restore them to what they were.”

It is easier to quantify the impact of these changes in land cover in a farming context. Fewer healthy grasslands means fewer animals and dramatically reduces both the carrying capacity and profitability of farms with important consequences for food security. You can express that in numbers.

But Southern Africa is also very much a country of game farms and conservation. In South Africa alone, there are approximately 12 000 registered game farms. Many are rehabilitated farms whilst others have experienced the impact of poor land management over the years.

“We opened our veld management division four years ago to advise rather than criticise, and now have tangible results and examples of what can be achieved. Under the expert eye of Divan Vermaak, a game ranger and veld management expert, we have created strong relationships within both the agricultural and conservation communities,” continued Pieter.

What started at Tala Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal with a small piece of land that was opened up and converted to grassland where more animals could graze, has now grown to involve far larger projects.

“For starters, we have undertaken a large project in Namibia, a country which is grappling with about 54 million hectares of encroachment. Similarly, massive bush encroachment has also taken its toll on both agricultural and conservation land in neighbouring Botswana.

“While we do see the business value of restoring thousands of hectares of high-value land that is now seen as almost worthless, we also know that we are doing far more than can be reflected on a balance sheet,” he concluded.

For more information, visit www.husqvarna.co.za

Rhino pic to come from Shakila …
The Husqvarna battery-powered saw painlessly and quietly removes a rhino’s horn to protect it from poachers.

Wood is King

Chris Chapman urges packaging manufacturers and consumers to kick oil-based plastic and welcome in a new world of beautiful, sustainable, versatile wood!!

Despite ongoing COVID-19 aftershocks, political brinkmanship within the corridors of power, rising poverty and crime and deteriorating service delivery at all levels of government, it’s still a damn good time to be in the forestry sector in South Africa. Or anywhere on the planet, for that matter.

In fact it may just be one of the best business arenas to be engaged in. The rising prices for sawn lumber and board across the globe are the latest indicator that the value of wood is on a long term upward trajectory.

US sawn timber prices are peaking close to the US$ 1 000 per cubic meter, and sawn lumber prices in Australia and New Zealand are soaring on the back of massive demand from China and the booming domestic construction markets. Here in South Africa the lumber market is strong and local sawmillers are enjoying a robust year – for a change.

The lumber supply in the Western Cape is holding its own but a shortage of roundlogs is looming following the massive fires in 2017 and 2018 plus the impact of government’s forestry exit strategy that has been implemented in the region.

The failure to re-capitalise the Category B and C plantations is another blot on the forest sector in South Africa, allowing precious resources to dwindle.

However the ever-increasing number of different products being produced from wood these days, plus the increasing realisation of the benefits of building in wood are all good omens for the future.

Wood plastic
Then this piece of news popped up. A US-based research team led by Prof Yuan Yao of the Yale School of the Environment and Liangbing Hu from the University of Maryland have developed a viable process for producing high quality bioplastic from wood.

This could be a game-changer as it could replace one of the world’s worst polluters – plastic.

Once regarded as a miracle invention, plastic has become the pariah of modern industrial economies. It does not biodegrade in a hurry and will continue to choke rivers, the ocean, landfills and our guts for centuries to come.

Reminds me of that classic line in The Graduate, featuring the brilliant Dustin Hoffman as a young man growing up in middle class America. At his university graduation party, a well-healed gent pulls the Dustin Hoffman character aside to offer him some sage advice about his future career choices: “I just want to say one thing to you son,” the rich gent says in typical 70s ignorance and stupidity.

“What’s that,” says Dustin, deadpan.

“Plastic!”

Remember, this was also the decade in which cigarettes were fashionable and we believed that smoking was good for you. The clever dick at the graduation party should have said another word: “Wood”!

If this technology of using wood as raw material to make plastic-like products can be perfected, there will be no excuse for packaging companies to continue to manufacture oil-based plastic. And if consumers can apply real pressure by shunning traditional plastic, we may yet have a shot at cleaning up the planet.

Either way you look at it the demand for wood is going only one way and that’s up, and we will all be better off for it.

The news that a Finnish project dubbed WISA WOODSAT is preparing to send a satellite with a plywood outer shell into space is yet another sign that Wood is King.

SA researchers push the innovation envelope

​Three South African researchers have made it to the global shortlist of the Blue Sky Young Researchers and Innovation Awards.

The awards, launched in 2016 by the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations (ICFPA), aim to recognise, celebrate and promote innovations in the global forestry sector.

Justin Phillips and Hester Oosthuizen, both from the University of Pretoria, and Eddie Barnard from Stellenbosch University, go up against another 18 of their peers from around the world. The top three finalists will win cash prizes and get an opportunity to present their work at the ICFPA’s Global CEO Roundtable virtual discussion on 29 April.

Particle board from paper sludge
Eddie Barnard is exploring the commercial viability of using technical lignin (a by-product from the wood pulping phase in pulp or paper making) and pulp and paper sludge (rejected, degraded, and spilled fibres and water from the pulping and paper making processes) to make composite materials.

Lignin has binding properties, which when combined with sludge, could be used to make construction materials such as a replacement for particle board. The use of lignin together with pulp and paper sludge could replace components that would otherwise be produced from fossil-based resources, and reduce associated waste, greenhouse gas emissions and disposal costs.

Cattle dip for killing ticks 
Justin Phillips has looked at how starch and nano-cellulose can be used as a carrier material for pesticide application in the agricultural sector. The insoluble solid active ingredient in the pesticide attaches to the carrier, which is water-soluble and allows for safer and more efficient and safe controlled release of the pesticide, especially in aqueous environments such as animal dipping for tick prevention.

A substitute for petroleum-based plastics
Cellulose is uniquely positioned to substitute many petroleum-based plastics, however it cannot be melt-processed and dissolved using common organic solvents. This is why Hester Oosthuizen examined the efficacy of using choline chloride and ionic liquids, considered greener and less volatile, to make cellulose fluid enough to produce cellulose-based materials using existing polymer processing techniques.

“We are immensely proud of our finalists for making it this far, and demonstrating that South Africa can hold its own against the best in the world,” says Jane Molony, executive director of the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA). “As a sector we constantly look for ways to support young people with an interest in science and technology and are proud of the career opportunities our member companies can offer them.”

Wood – a renewable alternative to conventional materials
As a sustainably farmed resource that stores carbon, wood is increasingly being used not only in the built environment for houses and high-rises, but also for its cellulose, lignin and sugars. These elements all have a role in helping the world find renewable and low-carbon alternatives to the likes of plastic, chemicals, steel and concrete.

“Two key advantages that commercially farmed trees bring are their renewability and their carbon storage,” explains Molony. “The fact that trees are sustainably planted, harvested and replenished on the same land makes both wood and paper products renewable and efficient resources. For a low carbon future, it’s tremendously exciting – especially when we look at the kind of research our young scientists are producing.”

An international panel with connections to industry, academia and public policy has been assembled to judge the awards, including:
• Lyndall Bull, Forestry Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (UN)
• Barbara Tavora Jainchill, Programme Management Officer, Forest Affairs, with the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat
• Fernando L. Garcia Bertolucci, Executive Director of Technology and Innovation at Suzano S.A. and Member of IUFRO
• Professor Gil Garnier, Director of BioPRIA within the Department of Chemical Engineering at Monash University
• John Innes, Dean of the Faculty of Forestry at University of British Columbia.
The local round was adjudicated by Valeske Cloete (Mpact), Sanet Minnaar (Sappi) and Mike Nash, former head of PAMSA’s Process Research Unit and experienced chemical engineer.

Related article: ICFR lab offers new opportunities for research and innovation