The environment, sustainability & recycling

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Question: How much carbon goes up in producing 1 tonne of steel and how much carbon is absorbed by 1 cubic metre of pine. This may help us in selling timber pergolas versus steel. 

Answer: It's estimated by one environmental group that producing 1 tonne of steel releases about 1 tonne of CO2. By contrast, 1 cubic metre of pine has a dry weight of about 500 kg, half of which is carbon. The CO2 required to produce 250 kg of carbon is 917 kg, so 1 cubic metre of wood stores about the same amount of CO2 as production of 1 tonne of steel emits! To be fair we have to take into account the CO2 emitted in the production of 1 cubic metre of wood. The energy used in timber production varies from mill to mill, but one study puts CO2 emissions from processes such as kiln drying at around 100 kg per cubic metre of wood. So the net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere would then be 917 - 100 = 817 kg, which still puts wood well ahead.


Question: I am trying to obtain a (concise as possible) list of timbers for furniture making that are sustainable as well as those that are to be avoided from an environmental standpoint. Can you help?

Answer: We are more familiar with the regulatory controls on Australian-produced timbers than those of other parts of the world, and you can be assured that any timber produced in this country is subject to the most rigorous monitoring. For more information about Australia's forests, refer to Australia's State of the Forests Report. This report is produced every five years and the latest (2013) edition can be ordered in hard copy, or downloaded here. Regarding imported timbers, species that are endangered are prohibited imports and not likely to be encountered in the marketplace. You can find more information about these species on the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) website at http://www.cites.org. Regarding species that are not necessarily endangered, but still might be unsustainably managed, the best way to deal with this issue is to seek out products certified by a credible third-party organisation. Banning certain species is not constructive (unless they are endangered), since this catches up producers who are operating sustainably, as well as those who aren't. Exporting countries are mostly well aware of the need to manage their forests sustainably and it is more helpful to support their efforts than to discriminate against their timber. Some developing countries are still working towards the goal of sustainability. For more on the this issue, go to the International Tropical Timber website at http://www.itto.int. The latest newsletter in their Tropical Forest Update series includes an editorial on Sustainable Forest Industries.


Question: How can I calculate how much carbon is stored in a piece of wood? Does it change with species?

Answer: The denser the wood, the more carbon is stored in a specific volume, so a stick of jarrah stores more carbon than the same size stick of balsa wood. This variation between different types of wood is taken into account by calculating carbon content according to the weight of the object. About half the dry weight of a tree, or wood product, is carbon. It takes 3.67 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce one tonne of carbon, so if you know the weight of your bowl you can work out how much carbon it contains and how much carbon dioxide it has taken from the air. (For example, 2 kg of wood contains approximately 1 kg of carbon that took approximately 3.67 kg of CO2 to produce.


Question: A timber or steel roof for a pergola - which one is the better choice for the environment and also lasts longer?

Answer: Timber has two major environmental advantages over steel products - one is that timber requires relatively small quantities of energy to produce, and the other is that it stores carbon. Trees grow on solar energy and we don't have to dig up the countryside to extract it. Trees also take carbon dioxide out of the air while they grow, and use it to form the various carbon compounds that make up wood. You can find out more about this on our website by clicking on the tab at the top of the page that says "Environmental Benefits". Regarding how long the two products last, that depends on how the structure is built, where it is located and how it is maintained. Timber structures built from durable timbers, or preservative treated timbers, correctly designed and well maintained will last almost indefinitely, and so will steel structures if they are correctly designed and built. One advantage timber has over steel is that it performs much better in a marine environment, so if you are building near the sea, timber is certainly the better choice!


Question: I am designing some furniture and I would like to know what is the best choice enviromentally. Radiata pine from NZ or Malaysian kauri pine.

Answer: New Zealand radiata pine is planted and harvested like any other crop, although on a somewhat larger scale than other agricultural products. As far as we are aware there are no doubts about the environmental qualities of New Zealand radiata pine, much of which is independently certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). You can find out more about the certification of New Zealand pine on the internet. Malaysian kauri pine is more commonly known internationally as damar minyak (Agathis borneensis). This species has been recommended for listing in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). If the recommendation is adopted, trade in damar minyak may be subject to greater regulation in future, but this does not necessarily mean it is a threatened species. While there are no restrictions on trade at present under CITES, you may wish to seek further information from your supplier about the source of the timber being offered, including details of any certification.


Question: We manage plantations in WA and have government approval for clearing/thinnings of natural bush, with the condition that we commit to planting 20 times that removed. We are having trouble finding markets for our hundreds of thousands of tonnes of resource.

Answer: Our role is a promotional one, and we don't become directly involved in commercial projects. However, someone who reads your question on our Q & A page might be interested. If so, we will seek approval before passing on your details. Meanwhile, are you aware of the Biomass Power Generation Plant proposed by Western Australia Biomass Pty Ltd for the Manjimup area? This would seem a suitable market for your resource. Connell Wagner has been facilitating the environmental approval process for the plant and you may wish to contact their W.A. office for more details.


Question: Chile in South America produces 70% of the world's pine . Is this mainly from plantation forests. Also when treating Pine timber with Stains and lacquers for furniture is this counter productive. Eg the stain and lac giving off chemicals into the ozone.

Answer: Natural forests of radiata pine have a very limited distribution. Only five stands remain. Three of these are on the Californian coast, and the other two are on islands off the coast of Mexico, so radiata pine from anywhere else, including Chile, must come from a plantation. While stains and lacquers emit solvents (if they are solvent based), the product as a whole (wood + coating) is still relatively environmentally friendly compared with other materials. And ofcourse water-based stains and coatings are available if desired, which do not produce any solvent emissions. By the way, Chile doesn't produce 70% of the world's pine. Chile has 1.3 million hectares of radiata pine plantations, out of an approximate world total of 3.7 million hectares, which represents 35%.


Question: Is there info on how much carbon is released in the manufacture of your average brick, or in the manufacture of the bricks required for an average 4 x 2 home ?

Answer: We don't have data on the carbon released per brick, or per house, but the brick industry acknowledges that brick manufacture is an emission-intensive process. Data is available relating emissions to the dollar value of production, and Think Brick Australia states that between 1200 and 1500 tonnes of C02 are released per million dollars of revenue. You might be interested to read their response to the Government's proposed carbon pollution reduction scheme. It can be found on their website at www.thinkbrick.com.au.


Question: I have some wood left over from a project - can I recycle it?

Answer: There are various ways to recycle wood, depending on the type and quantity. Most larger cities and towns in Australia have companies that specialise in recycled building materials. If you have sought-after types and sizes of timber, you might be able to sell your leftovers. Alternatively, you could donate the timber to a charity or sheltered workshop if it is suitable for making useful items. If your leftover material just consists of scraps, you can always use it for domestic fuel!

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