Renewable, recyclable and reusable: Paper and Wood

Press releases |

The European forest sector has set the goal of becoming, by 2030, a competitive and global technology leader with a key role in the promotion of sustainable development. It is important, that the emphasis in consumption will be shifted to renewable natural resources. Recyclable products – such as paper – made from wood, and which can be used to generate bioenergy at the end of their life cycle, represent sustainable development at its best.

In accordance with its vision, the forest industry intends to continue to be a sector that prudently uses renewable raw material in a way that corresponds to the changing needs of environmentally aware consumers. Finding broadly acceptable solutions is not always easy, but worth the effort.

In order to implement that vision, a joint European research programme, the Forest-based Industry Technology Platform, has been drafted recently. Finnish forest industry companies have had a significant role in shaping of it. Examples of the products that the industry is envisaged as offering in the future include intelligent and interactive packages, printed products, hygiene articles and applications for building with wood. The product range of the pulp mills of the future may well include more than just wood fibres for making paper; they could also provide green electricity and heat, in addition to a variety of wood-derived substances for use by the foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals industries.  

Wood and paper products are a part of our everyday lives

Paper and paperboard products are so close to our everyday life, that we often take them for granted. They are derived from a renewable raw material and they are light, text can be imprinted on them and they can be recycled or used to generate bioenergy. When good properties such as the ability of wood products to bind carbon are added to the list, it becomes even more evident that through our own consumption habits we can contribute to solving global problems.

Paper is holding its own as an overwhelmingly superior substrate for the printed word, irrespective of whether textbooks, newspapers or advertisements are involved. Its role in disseminating information, especially in developing countries, is unrivalled, and no challenger is in prospect. Paperboard products make it possible for many foodstuffs to remain unspoiled on their journey from producer to consumer’s table. Hygiene articles, in turn, are a vital necessity in developing countries and increasing their use raises the general standard of hygiene.

The need for paper is growing at the fastest rate in other parts of the world than Europe and North-America. At the same time, new uses for paper and wood products have been found. They are environmentally competitive especially when they are used to substitute for products made from non-renewable natural resources. Rising living standards, changing lifestyles and evolution of the demographic structure are influencing markets and altering consumption behaviour.  

More paper and bioenergy from less wood

Paper industry is using now less wood relative to the amount of paper manufactured than 30 years ago. The paper grades being made nowadays are thinner and finer and contain more fillers and coating materials. Production technology has likewise developed and the use of recycled paper has grown strongly.

The forest industry puts all of the wood it procures to precise and prudent use. The wood chips that are a by-product of sawmilling are used as a raw material for pulp and particle board. The chemicals recovered from the cooking-broth of the pulp are re-used in the production process, whilst the wood components in it are burned in a bioenergy plant to produce both electricity and heat. The wood products industry uses its by-products, like bark and other wood residues, as a fuel in bioenergy plants.

The forest industry is the biggest bioenergy producer in Finland. Wood-based fuels account for around 75 per cent of the energy that its mills use.

Output up, emissions down

The Finnish forest industry’s output has grown substantially in recent decades, but emissions into water and air have declined to a fraction of what they used to be. For example, output of paper and paperboard has more than trebled in the past 30 years, whereas both biochemical oxygen demand and effluents of suspended solids have declined by 95 per cent over the same period.

Such a positive development is thanks to the new technology that has been adopted to purify air and water. Over the past 15 years, the forest industry has invested an annual average of nearly €100 million to reduce the burden it places on the environment. As leading actors in the field, Finnish forest industry companies have been putting the best available technology on the market.

The Finnish paper industry re-uses all of the recovered paper collected in Finland to make new products

Although we are already quite good when it comes to collecting recovered paper, in 2005 Paperinkeräys Oy (the biggest recovered paper company in Finland) and its cooperation partners launched a campaign with the aim of making us the best in the world in this respect. Paper recovery will become more efficient and the target is to get Finland into the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s number one paper recycler.

Some 73 per cent of the paper consumed in Finland is collected for re-use, giving us fourth place in the world in this respect. It is an achievement that can be regarded as especially impressive in a sparsely populated country. Germany is the world leader when it comes to collecting recovered paper.

The use of recovered paper in the manufacture of new paper and paperboard has increased everywhere in the world. However, wood fibres cannot be re-used over and over again forever. Recycled paper must also include an input of strong primary fibres, because the technical properties of wood fibres, such as their strength, deteriorate after they have been used a few times.

In 2005 Paperinkeräys Oy (the biggest recovered paper company in Finland) and its cooperation partners launched a campaign with the aim of making us the best in the world in paper recovery. It will become more efficient and the target is to get Finland into the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s number one paper recycler. The outcome of the competition will be based on the statistics for 2005.

A pioneer in environmental reporting and publishing environmental data

A commitment to environmental systems creates a sustainable foundation for uniform and open monitoring of impacts on the environment. All pulp, paper and paperboard mills in Finland are certified under the ISO 14 001 environmental system and nearly half of them have additionally obtained EMAS registration. The companies’ wood-procurement functions are likewise certified.

A precondition for EMAS registration is that the company has had an environmental report audited and approved by an outside body. This report describes the main environmental impacts and goals of operations in question as well as measures already implemented or planned to reduce these impacts. The biggest companies also have listings in sustainable development indexes within the framework of which international bodies continuously assess their operations.

The Finnish Forest Industries Federation has been publishing itemised production and emission statistics for its members’ mills for the past 15 years.

Finland has more protected forests than any other European country

Finland is Europe’s most forested country, with trees covering all of three-quarters of the total land area. Finland is also the European leader when it comes to strictly protected forests, which account for 7.2 per cent of the total forest area.

Despite growth in the diversity of ways in which forests are handled, there are species with such strict habitat requirements that these habitats must be protected. The protected forests in Finland cover an area half the size of Belgium. If all protected areas including peatlands and up-most Arctic fell summits are added, the protected area is bigger than Belgium.

The majority of forests in Finland are multiple-use forests. Although forestry is practised in them, this does not exclude other uses of forests, such as picking berries, reindeer herding, hunting and recreation.

Regular forest inventories have been conducted in Finland since the 1920s. The growing stock of trees, i.e. the volume of wood in the forests, has been increasing since the 1970s. Finland’s first Forest Act went onto the statute books as long ago as 1886 and already then the destruction of forests was made illegal. Our present strict Forest Act requires that a new forest be planted to replace one that has been felled, and this must be done within five years of felling. In the latest revised Forest Act, which entered into force in the late 1990s, ecological and social sustainability has been elevated to a status equal in importance to that of economic sustainability. Environmental organisations have done valuable work in opening up a debate on specifically the ecological values of forests.

The climate and soil in Finland guarantee that forests start to grow on their own and independently spread to new ground. There is hardly any erosion in Finland.

Forest certification is a good way of demonstrating that the forests are managed well and sustainably. The various certification systems aspire towards the same goal – sustainable forest  management – but with slightly different emphases. At the moment, only about 7 per cent of the world’s forests are certified. 

Finnish forest industry companies know where the wood they use comes from

About a fifth of the wood raw material used by the Finnish forest industry is imported, mainly from Russia and the Baltic States. Domestically sourced supplies of species like birch are not sufficient to meet the industry’s requirements.

Under the contracts that companies conclude with suppliers of imported wood, the suppliers undertake to provide the buyer with information on the wood’s origin and the location of the terrain in which it has grown.

Special attention is paid to the location if the felling site is close to a protected area. The felling permit granted by the authorities ensures that a batch of imported wood has been legally felled. The contract also obliges the supplier to observe the environmental demands that Finnish forest industry companies make in relation to wood harvesting. 

Verification of the origin of wood is based on certified quality and environmental systems. Finnish forest industry companies check the veracity of the information that suppliers of imported wood provide by visiting felling sites and inspecting the forest management measures conducted on them. In addition to companies, independent certification bodies also visit the sites and can thereby verify the functioning of the chain of custody system of the wood.

The forest sector provides 200,000 jobs in Finland

In many areas the forest sector provides vital jobs that would be difficult to replace with any other activity. These jobs make a substantial contribution to safeguarding the vitality of many sparsely populated areas.

The forest sector provides direct employment for around 90,000 people, or about four per cent of the Finnish workforce. If indirect employment in sectors like technology and chemicals, transport and energy supply is also taken into account, the total contribution to employment rises to 200,000 or eight per cent of the national workforce.

Finnish forests are mostly family-owned

Private persons own about 62% of the forest area in Finland, the State about 24%, companies 9% and other communities (such as municipalities and parishes) about 5%.

One Finn in five is a member of a family that owns forest. Thus forest ownership is quite an everyday matter for many. Private persons own nearly 450,000 forest holdings of at least two hectares in size.

Most private forest owners live in rural areas, where revenues from wood sales have traditionally represented a substantial share of total family income. With over 60 per cent of the wood raw material that the industry uses coming from family-owned forests, the industry regards their owners as a very important stakeholder group. For some owners, values other than the economic gain from their forests, such as recreation and emotional attachment, are more important. 

Whatever the proprietary relations may be, Finland’s forests are used in a great variety of ways. They are open for everyone for pursuits like berry and mushroom picking and many kinds of recreation.

For more information, please contact:

Senior Vice Director, Environmental Policy, Pertti Laine, tel. +358 40 400 506 977, +358 9 132 6633
Hannu Valtanen, tel. +358 40 515 2766, +358 9 132 6610