Trees should be cherished and protected in cities too.
We’re moving towards a world now that is becoming more and more disconnected from the landscapes that were, until recently, an integral part of life. I’m speaking here more on behalf of the developed world; many developing nations still rely heavily on small scale agriculture. In today’s modern world, we cannot get away from wood. For example, what it would be like if you were to walk around the city and not see any trees? They give us an ever present connection to our farming heritage, and should be cherished and protected, not just in the wilderness, but in the cities as well.
The journey from forest to product is a relatively straightforward one. The paper you use to write on, and the box that your beer is packaged in comes from the same place – a tree. It’s a universal, naturally replenishing, recyclable and abundant product that we have developed and molded to fit a huge number of everyday applications. Unlike plastic products used for similar applications that originated in the lab, wood based products are sourced from some of the most breath taking places on Earth.
This is an eco-park set aside in Northern Sweden and it is the result of thousands of years of interaction with our environment. This particular park was set up to help protect the natural values that are present in the global wood, pulp, and paper supply chain. By isolating and managing these areas, forestry companies provide sanctuaries for all people to use. These areas are kept in their natural state and allow us to understand and see how these landscapes existed before we started harvesting them for wood and paper products. The emotions of standing before a scene like this can, as the proverb goes, not be explained in a thousand words. But we all implicitly understand these emotions. We’ve all had times when we’ve been looking out upon nature, with only the sounds the sounds of rivers and birds, and a feeling of content and stillness that only it can provide. By keeping areas such as this pristine and open to all, we can hold onto the last remnants of truly wild nature.
Over thousands of years, we have learnt to exploit trees for all manner of products. We’ve hunted and fished with wooden spears, built our houses out of the timber, planted seedlings in our cities, and we’ve used boxes to carry packaged goods from one place to another. We’ve used wood as a tool since we were hunter gatherers and we will value its unique properties far into the future. Sites as we can see above are now thoroughly common throughout the world, it might not look pretty, but in turn new trees will be planted and the process will repeat itself. This is the first step in the chain, from here the logs are whisked away to nearby saw mills and pulp plants to begin their conversion into a consumer product.
Hot & Noisy – Forest to Product
The production hall is huge. The air feels sticky and it’s around 40 degrees, the noise is deafening. Streams of water are pumping past so quickly it appears that they aren’t even moving. It’s washing huge rolls of paper. Paper that has been mulched and flattened from pulp, pulp that was itself mulched from the raw wood logs that originated from some of Europe’s most remote and breathtaking forest. It’s hard to imagine production like this is sustainable, but it is. These mills are completely energy self sufficient; in fact they commonly help power nearby cities. They can be more or less regarded firstly as a power plant, and secondly as pulp and paper mills. The wood off-cuts are used to power the plant, and the lignin (the ‘glue’ that holds the wood fibers together) is extracted and research is underway in order to efficiently transform this into bio diesel. In Sweden alone, it is estimated that the pulp and paper industry could eventually account for up to 80% of their domestic diesel needs. Ultimately, what we are left with is an end product that used only water and actually created excess electricity. The water itself is not technically consumed either, as it is processed and cleaned of impurities before being pumped back out into surrounding water ways.
Everyday Life – Appreciating Forest Products
But what about our urban areas? What relationships do trees now have with our cities? Trees have long been havens from the elements. We value them in our urban settings, giving us shade on hot days, or protection from rain when the weather turns. They look good and add a certain freshness to any lunchtime. We’ve managed to bring them in from forests and develop our cities in harmony with them. With time they turn into iconic aspects of urban living.
The importance of these scenes cannot be understated. In late May 2013, one of the smallest, and last remaining green areas of Istanbul was slated for demolition. Citizens of the city that were unhappy of the intended removal of this park staged a sit in, which soon grew into nation wide anti-governmental protests. Of course the nature and message of the protests changed during the following weeks, but it was all started by the unwillingness of locals to let go of some of their last green areas.
A common city sight. Wood decking providing a lunch time terrace for workers in the city. Even with ongoing urbanisation worldwide, we still value the sight and feel of wood in our everyday lives. The tables here are not even wood, they are coated with a plastic veneer to give a wood like appearance. Again a testament to the value we place on the look and feel of natural products.
Et voila. All the way from Northern Europe, carton board forests products are eventually consumed and discarded. These boxes are used to transport goods around and are a key end product of the wood and paper supply chain. So we not only see trees and wood decking as the only remnants of forests in our cities, but more developed aspects are present everywhere, and it is these ones which are consumed most quickly. Organised recycling, common in Europe, helps extend the life of these products. A single fibre used in paper and board products can be re used up to seven times, with the quality gradually diminishing through each recycling phase.
So the next time you’re walking through your local city, appreciate the effort that has been made to ensure that our centers stay green. And next time you’re sitting on a wooden park bench, or eating out of a paper box, be thankful that they’re not plastic. Plastic may be easier to produce and have a longer lifespan, but that is a problem in itself, check out your local landfill to see for yourself. Nothing on this planet is supposed to last forever, wood-based products certainly won’t, but with proper management, the trees that provide for us in so many ways will.