Industry bodies emphasise sustainability of SA forestry sector

9th March 2012 By: Yolandi Booyens

The domestic forestry and pulp and paper sectors do not have as negative an impact on the environment as many people might believe, industry bodies Forestry South Africa (Forestry SA) and the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (Pamsa) emphasise.

Pamsa executive director Jane Molony points out that public misperception, not just in South Africa but globally, is one of the biggest challenges facing the forestry and the pulp and paper sectors.

She emphasises that the fibre used in paper manufacturing in South Africa is not sourced from the wood of rainforests, indigenous or boreal forests. The pulp and paper industry alone plants 260 000 trees a day on a total of 762 000 ha for this purpose.

Forestry SA executive director Michael Peter adds: “We do not cut down indigenous trees to produce paper or manufacture furniture. The industry farms timber. And without farmed timber, which equates to 17-million tons a year, South Africa’s indige- nous forests would have been eliminated by now.” Only matured trees are harvested and replaced by saplings. Young trees are able to store carbon more rapidly than older trees so carbon absorption continues.

“Fortunately, deforestation of South Africa’s limited indigenous forests has never been nearly as significant as has been seen elsewhere in the world. This is precisely because the plantation industry was established early on in the country’s development to meet our wood and wood product needs,” adds Peter.

The largest indigenous forest in South Africa, the Knysna Tsitsikamma complex, can produce about 2 000 t/y of timber. South Africa’s forestry plantation industry, which is only about three times the size of South Africa’s entire indigenous forests, produces 17-million tons of timber a year.

South Africa’s timber plantations lock up 900-million tons a year of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a massive environmental service and a key means of fighting climate change. Only 9% of this timber is harvested a year to make paper and other wood products.

“If you discount what Forestry SA members harvest every year and what they plant, there is a continual block of 91% of standing timber that was not there prior to the industrial revolution,” he points out.

Further, Peter tells Engineering News that 84% of South Africa’s timber plantations are certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), which measures the social, economic and environmental sustainability of global forestry operations and is nationally represented in more than 50 countries around the world.

Applying for FSC certification is voluntary and ensures that forest products are produced from responsibly harvested and independently verified sources.

“South Africa’s forestry plantations are a renewable, sustainable source of our paper needs,” says Molony. “People need to understand that paper and board are more environment friendly than any other medium for packaging and communication needs.”

Meanwhile, Peter says another common misconception is that bamboo is more environment friendly than timber in terms of water consumption.

“This is untrue, as there is no direct cost to supplying water to the forestry industry. The forests aren’t irrigated; they all use natural water,” states Peter.

Further, he points out that the forestry sector pays a streamflow reduction levy to compensate for the diminished flow in streams in the dry season arising from the evapotranspiration from plantations. It is the only agriculture sector which is charged for this. Hydrologists believe that other dryland crops should in some cases also attract a levy.

He also points out that plantations offer an ecosystem service in the form of improved water quality and the slower release of water, especially in steep, high catchment areas, which means that, although flow volume is reduced somewhat, rivers run for longer periods in the year because of the plantation industry.

Climate change is a global problem and every industry has a responsibility to help mitigate the effects of climate change. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 90% of deforestation globally is caused by unsustainable agricultural practices.

Timber crops are only planted where it is suitable to plant them. This is often in areas where few other plants or crops can be planted.

In addition to ecological benefits, he adds that one needs to also keep in mind the return these plantations provide from an economic and social perspective.

From an economic perspective, the forest and forest product industry is a R40-billion-a-year industry and employs 170 000 people, which shows a return from a social perspective as well.

Black Liquor as a Renewable-Energy Source

Renewable energy is viewed by the pulp and paper industry as an opportunity for further climate change mitigation. The industry derives a significant percentage of its energy from renewable sources, such as black liquor and bark.

Black liquor is derived from the residue liquors of the chemical wood pulping process. About 50% of the wood compo- nents are dissolved in the chemical pulping process and extracted in the form of black liquor. It can be used to generate energy, which results in less fossil fuel being bought for paper manufacturers’ energy needs.

Molony adds that cogeneration is more carbon efficient than the generation of power by State-owned power utility Eskom and this applies even when coal is used. Obviously, using renew- able fuel for cogeneration is an even better option, which is the case for both the sugar and pulp and paper industries.

“The pulp and paper industry is currently in discussion with the Department of Energy about opportunities to sell green power to the grid. “The industry does have existing agreements with power utility Eskom; however, current procurement policies limit opportunities for renewable and cogeneration supply. This is a major opportunity for the pulp and paper industry as far as sustainability is concerned,” she says.

“What the pulp and paper and forestry industries would like to see in South Africa is plantation forestry being used as an offset mechanism. Forward-thinking municipalities, like eThekwini, are planting trees to sequester carbon and reduce its carbon footprint as a city,” adds Molony.

Paper Recycling in South Africa

Meanwhile, South Africa recycles 58% of recyclable paper. “If we really want to increase the amount of paper being recycled in South Africa, households need to contribute more,” says Molony.

Only between 5% and 10% of South African households recycle. Despite the paper industry spending in excess of R1-billion on collections a year, there is a lack of curbside collection in certain regions. While government supports the concept of job creation through recycling in its Green Industries Accord, the fact that recycling is not mandatory for households means progress is inhibited.

“The new Waste Manage- ment Act allows for sorting at source to be legislated, but municipalities have to incorporate this into their regulations,” Molony states.

Training

Pamsa has received funding from the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority to train entrepreneurs. So far, it has trained 200 entrepreneurs through the Paper Recycling Association of South Africa. More people will be trained across various municipalities.

“When it comes to the skills shortage in the forestry and pulp and paper industries, we realised that more entry-level people are needed. “In response to this need, Pamsa has developed a curriculum for a national certificate vocational (NCV) directed at learners with a formal qualification of grade nine or the national qualification framework Level 1.

People who complete the NCV qualification will be qualified to control the equipment, machinery and systems used in pulp and paper manu- facturing processes. The NCV Level 4 qualification also puts learners in a position to apply at universities and further their studies.

Besides the NCV qualification, Pamsa has also managed to add educational information regarding the process of recycling to Gauteng’s Department of Education curriculum for grade R to grade seven learners.

“This will help to instill awareness in children from a very young age about the pro- cess and importance of recycling,” says Molony.

With help from govern- ment, the business sector and households, South Africa can use its forestry plantations to help lower greenhouse-gas emissions, curb its carbon footprint, advocate renew- able energy and encourage everyone to see the ‘green’ value of paper products that they use on a daily basis in various forms.