What is the real potential of wood residues in the tropical and sub-tropical countries of the Asia-Pacific region? How realistic are our hopes that their more efficient use can contribute to a reduction in annual areas logged and thus to forest conservation? What alternative uses are available for logging and mill residues?
This report has attempted to find answers to these three questions based on country studies for China and Indonesia and a review of available literature. Some of the findings presented in the report are not new, while others should stimulate APFC member countries to examine the issues for their particular situations in more detail.
Available information on the generation of wood residues remains inadequate. In part, this can be explained by the lingering misperception that residues represent a waste problem. This perception is out-dated for two reasons. First, the disposal of wood residues through dumping and burning has become more costly - in financial and economic terms - in recent years. Especially since the catastrophic forest fires of 1997/98, burning wood residues is no longer an acceptable option as many countries have begun enforcing existing laws more strictly. Second, as examples (particularly from Malaysia) indicate, mill residues have already made the transition from waste to valuable by-products and secondary wood processors have even reported supply shortages. In addition, statistics on production are unreliable, with considerable discrepancies among different sources of information. Production of illegally felled and extracted timber remains unreported. Hence, the figures used for calculating the overall availability of wood residues need to be viewed with caution, as they are most likely higher than estimates derived from official production figures.
The rule of thumb that for every cubic meter extracted from the forest another one is left behind is confirmed by this study. The study focused on the major industrial roundwood producers of the Asia-Pacific region and concluded that the 18 selected countries produce approximately 250 million m3 of logging residues annually, which is slightly above the industrial roundwood production for all of Asia. However, much of the available material has little or no financial value. The economically usable or attractive volume is therefore only about one-tenth of that amount (i.e. about 25 million m3). This is by no means a negligible amount and ways and means need to be pursued urgently to reduce waste and make better use of the remainder.
A different situation exists with regard to mill residues. The study focused on those two sub-sectors with the lowest recovery rates (i.e. sawnwood and plywood for which recovery rates are on average 50 and 47 percent respectively). The total volume of residues generated through sawmilling is annually about 61 million m3 in the 18 countries selected for the study. Another 19 million m3 are generated by the plywood sub-sector. Most mill residues in wood-deficit countries are probably already used. Even in the major producing countries, an increasing amount of mill residues is used for further processing or for producing energy and steam. While no clear picture emerges, it can be assumed that of the 61 million m3 of residues generated annually, only about 45 million m3 are currently available for further use.
The total volume of logging and mill residues that is potentially available and of interest to the industries is estimated at about 70 million m3 each year. Can we expect that using this volume or a percentage of it can reduce pressure on the remaining forests? At least two conditions need to be met for this to happen. First, wood processors need to be operating at close to full capacity. If they operate below capacity, the impact of additional raw material in the form of logging and mill residues would be zero (i.e. logged volumes would not be reduced), as Barr (2000) has argued for Indonesia.9
Can increased efficiency translate into forest conservation?
Efficiency becomes associated with conservation because it is assumed that investments in efficiency will produce greater volumes of processed output without generating increased demand for raw materials. Yet, there is little evidence to indicate that either logging companies or processing firms would voluntarily place a cap on their earnings by restricting the volume of timber they harvest or process, if access to this timber were not otherwise constrained. On the contrary, basic economic theory would suggest that firms able to raise profits through increased efficiency would have an incentive to expand their operations, thereby increasing their demand for logs.
Source: Barr, 2000
Second, as also suggested by Barr (2000), access to timber needs to be restricted to literally force wood processors to make more use of residues and to increase recovery rates. While such restrictions are sure to be opposed by a number of stakeholders in the forestry sector, the imposition of harvesting restrictions in various member countries of the APFC during the 1990s indicates that drastic measures have been taken before and can be taken again.
As long as industrial capacities remain high in the major wood-processing countries and access to timber is not slowly reduced, the 70 million m3 of available residues will not reduce pressure on the remaining natural forests. Under certain conditions, it may even increase pressure (i.e. when wood residues are in short supply and wood processors establish plantations to provide for steady and reliable future raw material supplies). If the past is an indication of the future, some of these plantations will replace natural, albeit degraded, forests.
With respect to logging, the first step is to avoid the generation of residues as far as possible. Applying RIL practices can reduce damage to the residual stand by up to 50 percent, which would have a significant impact on residue volumes while leaving a more productive stand for future wood production. In fact, the increased use of logging residues should only be promoted in combination with improved harvesting techniques.
Conditions vary among countries and blanket recommendations should be avoided. However, the most feasible option for extracting economically usable material would be through additional crews that follow the original harvesting operations and use lighter equipment. In relatively flat terrain and where road conditions are adequate, the use of mobile chippers should also be contemplated. They are appropriate in plantations where recovery rates are currently as low as 30 percent. Any option for using more logging residues requires considerable investments, not only in equipment but also in training. As long as current attitudes and habits regarding logging in the tropical forests of Asia and the Pacific remain, it is unlikely that such investments will be made.
9 Dykstra (2001, p. 4) on the other hand has recently argued that a 1 percent increase in the amount of wood recovered from forest harvesting, “would reduce the total area of tropical forest disturbed over the 50-year period 2001–2050 by almost 150 million ha.”
The need for changes in attitudes appears to be less important when it comes to the profitable utilization of mill residues. It is rather difficult to assess how much of the total volume of mill residues is currently being used, hence is no longer available. The informal sector clearly uses a significant share. In addition, industries that rely solely on mill residues for producing chips or reconstituted wood-based boards have expanded in recent years. MDF and particleboard producers are today processing sizeable amounts of mill residues as the examples from Malaysia (particularly Sarawak) indicate. Co-generation has emerged as an alternative to dumping with very attractive payback periods. The recent increase in oil prices and the tremendous fluctuation in the prices of fossil fuels should make co-generation an even more attractive option. Briquetting is an option that can make use of material for which there is otherwise not much demand.
The changes that have been taking place over the last five years indicate that an enabling environment has already been created for utilizing more mill residues. The question that remains is what should be done so that an even larger share of the 70 million m3 that are available each year will be used.