Solving issues such as production efficiency and recycling safety may open new business opportunities in making use of the current waste streams in the wood-based industries. These were recently discussed in a podcast by the FutureForest2040-project, which looks at possible future structural changes in the Finnish forest-based sector and their impacts.
Global resource use could triple by 2050 with increasing energy demand and consumption trends, according to some estimates. In the future scenarios created in the FutureForest2040 project, the European policies foreseen primarily focus on solving the problem of over-consumption and over-utilisation of natural resources in a market-oriented way.
However, some scenarios assume global agreements would force a price tag to be placed on the external impacts of over-consumption. This could mean that companies would pay taxes for producing over the “accepted level”, and these increased production costs would be reflected towards consumers with higher end prices. Consequently, companies in the land-use sector could expect restrictions in their expansion possibilities. At the same time, however, restrictions on natural resource utilisation may boost circular economy practices, such as increased production efficiency, product design prolonging product lifetimes and reusability/recyclability, and production based on waste streams. Any related legislation would require careful planning to prevent unexpected and undesirable side impacts.
Cascading is one of the essential tools of the circular economy. It refers to a prioritised order: re-use, recycling, bioenergy and disposal, but it also may refer to the efficient utilisation of side streams. As cascading is often assumed to decrease the demand for virgin materials e.g. roundwood use, benefits are mainly assumed to be gained from the indirect impacts. This means the environmental benefits are not easily measurable.
Cascade use can have direct sustainability benefits as well. However, current waste management technologies are still quite under-developed and do not always result in e.g. lower GHG emissions than virgin material usage. However, suitable political guidance, combining a mix of restrictive and promoting tools, could help to develop these practices and environmental performance, and open many new business opportunities, providing added value as well as employment. One might also ask on which scale restrictive and promoting policy tools should be mixed to reach the favourable outcome.
There are different ‘waste’ streams available for cascading, and their business- and RD opportunities vary. For instance, many wood-based by-products originating from forest industry, such as sawmilling, are consistent in quality, and easy to use as a raw material in for example chemical pulping or other material production and new wood-based products. The use-rate of these by-products is generally high in Europe, and in Finland the rate is practically 100%, but combustion for energy is the main use. Increased production opportunities in the form of e.g. chemicals and wood-based composites in addition to pulp-based products such as textiles would increase the added value and benefit also the primary wood industries selling by-products. This, however, would require large-scale cooperation and mixing the expertise of forestry with other sectors.
When it comes to waste wood usage, there are other issues such as safety and hygiene. This applies to the utilisation of e.g. demolition wood, which may include hazardous surface treatment compounds. Yet, this can be turned into another business opportunity in terms of engineered testing and waste separation technologies. This again highlights the need to combine expertise from other sectors. A lot of people want to enter the forest-based business, they just don’t know it yet!
This post highlights some of points made in second episode of the Finnish Puupodi-podcast where EFI’s Janni Kunttu meets Martti Kulvik and Jussi Lintunen from Etla to discuss some of the findings of the FutureForest2040 project. FutureForest2040 aims at foresighting possible structural changes in the Finnish forest-based sector, and market and employment impacts accordingly in 2040.
The project is carried out by EFI and the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (Etla), with the financial support of Metsämiesten Säätiö Foundation.
Photo: ©TSUNG-LIN WU /AdobeStock