Both new and traditional forest industry products are needed
Recently, there has been a lot of public discussion, especially on social media, about forest industry products, their degree of processing and lifetime, with questions asked about when new innovations take a concrete form.
Accusations that the forest industry’s export portfolio would consist of raw bulk only are questionable. If the forest sector exports consisted of felled trees as is, this criticism could be more justified. However, that is not the case. Pulp in itself is a processed product.
To ensure that valuable wood materials are fully utilised, they should be used for manufacturing many kinds of products. Pulp is made of small-sized timber from thinning and those log parts that are not accepted by sawmills or board mills to be used as construction materials, for instance. In addition, many new products with higher added value – both existing and those being developed – are pulp-based. Pulp production side streams are also used in paints, glues and transport fuels, for instance.
We need wood-based products, both new and traditional, both short-term and long-term. Notorious short-term products include toilet paper or coffee filter paper, for instance. How many intend to stop using them?
The world is also changing and the demand for products changes alongside it: paperless offices and online magazines have reduced the demand for paper globally. This demand-based change, too, must be taken into account when reviewing products and degrees of processing. On the other hand, the demand for paperboard has increased and keeps on increasing.
The innovation activities of the forest industry do not refer only to brand-new products: RDI work is carried out also to optimise the characteristics and manufacturing processes of existing products as well, when it comes to factors such as environmental impacts. Whether a wood-based product has been used for a long time or is just being developed, what they have in common is the positive climate impacts they have as replacements for equivalent fossil-based materials, such as plastic.
Everyone who has carried out practical RDI work in a laboratory knows that even basic research and the subsequent early stages of the innovation chain require time, skilled professionals and expensive equipment. New technical challenges and investment needs emerge until the production scale is reached. All of this costs money. Consequently, traditional business operations also enable the development of new products and other important RDI activities.
New wood-based products, such as textiles, various kinds of packaging, biomedical products and even washbasins, already exist. The forest sector is important for the national economy already now, not only in the future: approximately one fifth of the value of Finnish goods exports consists of forest industry products. These include both established and new products and both short-term and long-term products – they all are needed.