Back to blog | November 9 2021 | Valérie Levée | Science, architecture and occupational health and safety journalist

Wood makes the economy circular

In a linear economy, wood is harvested from the forest, transformed into planks or panels, and assembled, for example, into a cupboard, and then one day sent to a landfill. This linear economy contributes to the production of waste, regardless of natural resource consumption and adverse environmental impacts.

Yet wood is a renewable material of choice to minimize the environmental footprint of products and close the loop of this counterproductive economy. Let us look at how wood allows for the circularization of part of Québec’s economy.

In fact, this should be referred to as a multi-circular economy because, by following the 3RV-E hierarchy principle, it is possible to form several loops, as many players in the forest industry have shown.

The first R comes from “reduction”, which involves optimizing the resource by reducing the amount of wood used and waste. For example, spruce heads are too small to make 2x4s, but Chantiers Chibougamau takes advantage of this to make glued-laminated timber beams. Factory prefabrication of roof trusses and even wall or roof panels also maximizes the resource and reduces scrap. Sawmill residues are recovered for the manufacture of pulp and paper and particle boards. Damabois, which manufactures pallets, uses their own sawmill residues to press them into pressed wooden pallets.

The second R stands for “reuse”, which is widely implemented in the used furniture market, whether at antiques, specialty shops, flea markets or through classified ads posting sites.

The third R is for “recycling” and there are several levels, starting with repair. Wooden furniture is repaired, of course, but Alséro also collects used pallets for refurbishment. Recycling is also about recovering wood for different new products. Vieux Bois and Écobois recover wood from demolition sites and convert it into benches, beams, sheeting, etc. Finally, used wood can be shredded in specialized sorting centres such as Groupe Bellemarre to join the wood panel industry such as Tafisa and MSL for the manufacture of kitchen furniture or insulation. For their part, Cascades and Kruger recycle paper and paperboard into recycled paper and paperboard.

The V is for “valorization”, which means using a residue and reintegrating it into an industrial process to produce a different product from the first. This is the case with Sopra-Cellulose thermal insulation made from 85% recycled paper. Valorization can also be energy-efficient when wood waste is burned to power a heating system. Many companies, such as Charpente Montmorency or Planchers PG, use their own waste to heat their plant or provide heat to their manufacturing process. Others, such as Lauzon Bois Énergétique Recyclé, produce pellets from the residues produced by the parent house Lauzon Plancher de bois exclusif.

The example of forest sector strategies for the circular economy allows the replacement of the E from “elimination” with the E from “ecodesign”, which should be at the top of the 3RV hierarchy. In its broadest sense, the ecodesign of a product consists of preferring materials with a low environmental footprint, optimizing the use of these materials and ensuring that the product can be disassembled to recycle its components. This is the approach of Linéaire Écoconstruction, which recovers and reuses construction materials and assembles its structures using old lug and mortar techniques to facilitate dismantling. This is a good example of a company that applies the principles of circular economy over the entire life of its products.

Many players in the forest industry find a way to apply the principles of the circular economy, and this can help improve the circular economy of the construction sector, which annually sends over one million tonnes of waste, including wood, to landfills. When we say that the forestry sector can make a difference in terms of the environment, this is one of the possibilities!

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