It is hard to engage in conversation these days with respect to the wood packaging industry and not get pulled towards discussing lumber prices and supply, labour challenges, and shrinking margins due to rapidly rising raw material and operating costs. It is a hard reality that we all face, and when coupled with the other day to day challenges of business, makes for frustrating times. However, we should not let these things completely cloud some of the good things that are going on in and around the industry.
To start, the recent Landfill Avoidance Study that was produced by Virginia Tech served to drive home and confirm the fact that we, the wood packaging industry, are leaders in the area of reuse, recovery, and recycling of our products. While not surprising, the study results point to an amazing 95 per cent rate of reuse and recovery of wood pallets produced in the USA. As our domestic industry is one that is well aligned with the USA industry, one can assume a similar percentage to be realized in Canada.
While I was impressed when looking at these numbers, it was very hard to quantify, until almost by accident, I stumbled upon something that made me stop and realize the significance of the data contained in the NWPCA’s report. While working with our Nature’s Packaging (www.naturespackaging.org) Marketing Task Force, I was investigating “the circular economy”, and the direction that the province of Ontario is headed with respect to waste diversion and landfill avoidance. That search lead me to the February 2017 Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change document titled the “Strategy for a Waste Free Ontario, Building the Circular Economy”, available here: https://files.ontario.ca/finalstrategywastefreeont_eng_aoda1_final-s.pdf .
This is a very comprehensive publication detailing the province’s waste reduction goals through the year 2050. It should serve as a reminder to everyone about the type of legislation that will be forthcoming, but it also points to a statistic that we, as an industry should be proud of. Page twenty of the document highlights the re-use and recycling statistics of the Beer Store with regards to beer and alcohol containers, and in my opinion uses it as a benchmark for success. The statistic most important to me is their 95 per cent recovery rate (reuse and recycle) on containers. Identical to the rate cited in the Virginia Tech landfill avoidance study as the rate of reuse, reclamation and recycling found in the wood pallet industry.
While we have done a great job within our industry of achieving these types waste reduction numbers, unlike the Beer Store, one thing we have not done well is communicate those numbers and celebrate them to a point where we too might find ourselves used as the model for landfill avoidance and sustainability. This is one area that we hope Nature’s Packaging can step in as the vehicle which delivers this positive messaging. We once again encourage you all to use this resource and tell the good story that we have to tell.
Speaking of waste and landfill avoidance, I had the pleasure of attending the Canadian Wood Waste Recycling Business Group’s meeting in Airdrie, Alberta on May 4th. This relatively newly formed group of inventors, entrepreneurs, academics, and environmentalists put on a very thought provoking session aimed at growing the emerging wood waste markets. Wood waste, and its associated challenges, is obviously something near and dear to our hearts, and listening to people discuss new technologies, statistics, small business success stories all built on wood waste was fascinating.
One of the main highlights for me was learning about a new technology whereby wood waste of any kind can be converted into a type of furnace oil that in turn may be used as a bio fuel. What made this technology most interesting is that the equipment required to produce this fuel is already relatively accessible from a cost standpoint, and its small footprint makes it possible to install at almost any location. Imagine, a machine that turns your wood scraps into liquid fuel that you may use to fire furnaces, water heaters, or sell on the open market. Whether this technology will ever become a reality for this industry remains to be seen, but the fact of the matter is that the technology exists and similar technology is being rapidly developed.
Also of note during the day was a presentation by WestJet. What does WestJet have to do with wood waste you ask? Well, as a part of their corporate sustainability strategy, one of their key directives is to lessen their dependence on traditional jet fuels. They have been achieving this to date by investing in more efficient aircraft and utilizing technology to maximize efficiencies in their route planning to name a couple of tactics. This is not enough however, and now this leading aviation company is looking towards a by-product like wood waste to create a blended jet fuel that will lessen their reliance on the traditional fossil fuels currently utilized.
Perhaps at some point we will reach a balance where our wood waste will be able to provide a realistic financial offset to rising raw material and operating costs. Hardships and challenges always breed innovation, and for this industry, perhaps the solutions to some of our problems will be found in alternative markets. As we move forward amidst the turmoil of the current landscape let us not forget that we do have a great story to tell. Organically, our industry has grown into a leader when it comes to reuse, recycling and reclamation of our product, and we are only getting better. Couple that strong foundation with the emerging technologies that can only serve to enhance and expand on that good story, and I believe that we are poised to remain a leader in delivering the best, and most sustainable products for the safe delivery of goods around the world.
Scott Geoffros is general manager, Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association.