Linear Economy vs Circular Economy

Circular economy – How does wood fit into the future? 

The circular economy is a model that aims to minimise or do away with waste. The goal of the circular economy is to make the absolute most of available resources by promoting sustainability, reuse, recycling, and innovation.  

In a perfect circular economy, forest and wood products play a crucial role by embracing sustainable and maintainable forestry practices, promoting the reuse and recycling of wood, and contributing to the development of bio-based materials and energy. 

The industry behind our forest and wood products currently fosters a regenerative and resource-efficient system that minimises waste and maximises the value of timber throughout its lifecycle. 

So, what is next and how do we embrace and encourage circularity? 

Rows of tree saplings

Sustainable forestry practices

Australia has some of the most rigorously regulated forestry practices in the world. There are regulations in place that ensure that timber is harvested in a way that maintains or enhances the health and productivity of the forest ecosystem. We know that the people who look after certified forests are managing the resource for sustainable productivity and that selective logging and reforestation efforts contribute to maintaining a balance between harvest and regeneration. 

You can support these efforts by buying wood products and making a conscious effort to choose materials that come from an industry that considers the health of our planet. 

Stacked wood

Recycling and reusing wood

A major aspect of a well-functioning circular economy is extending the life cycle of the products we create. It means closing the loop on the ‘take-make-dispose’ model and stopping waste by increasing the service life of the products we produce. 

Promoting the reuse and recycling of wood products helps extend their life cycle. This can include repurposing old structures or recycling used wood products into new ones. A great example of repurposing or reusing wood products is Lyocell where the byproducts of wood production are pulped, washed, and given a new life through the creation of clothing fibre.  

Wood products are perfectly placed to contribute to circularity. They can be used for multiple life cycles, such as reclaiming timber products from construction to create new, innovative materials or even recycling or repurposing items that have been properly designed to be used time and again. 

Bio-based materials and energy

Wood chips and saw dust

Wood is a renewable and biodegradable resource that can be used to produce bio-based materials like wood composites, engineered wood products, and other sustainable construction materials. These alternatives often have a lower carbon footprint compared to other materials like concrete or steel. 

Timber production residues and by-products, such as branches, bark, and sawdust, can be used as biomass for energy generation through processes like bioenergy or biofuel production. 

The use of wood biomass for bioenergy is increasing worldwide. This can be good for the environment if it replaces fossil fuels and reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, there are concerns about whether harvesting timber for this purpose is sustainable and leads to more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In well-managed forests, where biomass is a by-product of tree harvesting, the carbon released during bioenergy generation is absorbed by growing trees as part of the natural carbon cycle. 

When assessing the climate impact of using biomass for bioenergy, it’s important to consider GHG emissions from the fuel used in extracting and transporting the biomass. When using wood production byproducts for energy, we must be considerate in our approach so that the process can be less climate intensive and can contribute to a more sustainable energy mix, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. 

Certification programs – checks and balances

Checking the products you buy to make sure they participate in certification programs (FSC and PEFC) ensures that timber products come from responsibly managed forests.  

Certification programs’ tick of approval helps you make informed choices. They not only encourage but require sustainable practices within the industry. This means that when you choose certified wood you are choosing a product that comes from a program that considers the environment, the work conditions, and biodiversity. 

Recycled packaging

Innovation to achieve a circular economy

Encouraging innovation in the industry is key to achieving circularity within our economy. We can innovate by developing new technologies for more efficient wood processing or even finding alternative uses for by-products that can contribute to a more circular approach. 

Researchers are working to find alternative uses for wood products all over the world. From wood-based textiles and bioplastics to wood waste utilisation technologies, invention and advancement in production are key to achieving or circularity goals.

Education – The potential of circularity

Educating participants across the forest and wood products industry and broader economy (including manufacturers, consumers, and policymakers) about the principles of the circular economy and the importance of sustainable practices helps drive positive change. 

By integrating sustainable and circular principles, wood production companies can contribute to a more circular economy, promoting responsible resource management and reducing environmental impact. 

Woman browsing selection of wood samples

How do we close the loop? – Embracing a circular economy

Embracing closed loop systems in the forest and wood products industry means we have to design products and processes with the end result in mind. One way to do this is to design each product with the goal of being able to recycle it or even disassemble the product and turn it into something completely new.  

Closed-loop systems aim to minimize waste by ensuring that materials are continuously reused or recycled, and you can encourage a shift toward circularity by making considerate choices every day. 

Wood is a key answer to the question of how Australia will achieve a functioning circular economy. Choosing wood products can minimize waste and maximize forest and land resource efficiency. In a perfect economy, sustainable forestry practices, recycling and reusing wood products, and the development of bio-based materials and energy are pivotal steps.

We can support change by practicing responsible consumption, purchasing through certification programs, fostering and encouraging innovation, and promoting education to drive positive change toward a more circular economy. 

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