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.
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.
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.