Wood raw material described as a pillar for the ecological transition

ALL4PACK Emballage Paris hosted a conference on November 23 organised by the Pôle Emballage Bois entitled “Wood raw material: How to secure supplies for the packaging sector”.

Experts at ALL4PACK gave their analysis concerning the use of wood in light packaging such as crates, trays, and pallets.

A brief introduction on wood as a packaging material

The AGEC and “Climate and Resilience” laws are pushing marketers to turn more and more to sustainable and bio-based materials.

According to Nicolas Douzain-Didier, wood is a versatile material source that “ticks all the boxes of the circular economy because of its recyclability or reparability, but not only that: it is renewable, and stores carbon”. A rather strong singularity of this material, deserving to be highlighted in view of the important place it occupies in many sectors.

Florence Lucas continues by insisting on the notion of sustainable management of wood products from forests, which she defines as the exploitation of the resource in a responsible manner. It is necessary, on the one hand, to ensure the renewal of the forests through a strict and demanding reference system comprising 380 criteria, but also through a chain of custody certification to companies. Thus, for a packaging or a product to be stamped with the PEFC label, all the parties involved in its manufacturing must also carry the label.

Emmanuel Taillardat’s guests: from left to right, Nicolas Douzain-Didier, general delegate of the National Federation of Wood; Florence Lucas, in charge of development at PEFC France; Michael Modugno, vice-president and founder in charge of sustainable development at PGS Group; and François de Vivies, co-president of SIEL and director of COMAS

Initiated by French producers for the management of the country’s forests, this label has spread throughout Europe becoming worldwide in 2006 after Canada and the United States joined.

Michael Modugno, for his part, highlights the very high reusability of wood, particularly in the pallet sector, which makes its use more than relevant in the circular economy perspective because of its reparability.

While Francois de Vivies mentions the very strong potential of wood as a unique alternative packaging. In addition to absorbing carbon, it is a material that is naturally suitable for contact with food and can be easily reused, especially for simple products such as ice cream sticks or coffee stirrers. This is a big advantage over single-use plastic packaging, which requires much more energy to be reused.

A material of choice for decarbonising the economy

On the question of supply, Nicolas Douzain-Didier answers: “We are lucky to live in France, and by extension, in Europe: 70% of the supply in France comes from French forests, and the rest is provided by other European forests which also provide one third of the world’s wood resources. We are largely self-sufficient in this resource, which is far from drying up in Europe because we plant more trees than we cut down, because deforestation is prohibited in our countries.”

François de Vivies then addressed the question of the species to be favoured in the packaging sector, praising mainly the virtues of poplar, a soft wood that is pleasant to work with without too much energy input. And on the question of supply, the president of Comas answers by a systematic reforestation approach, in particular through initiatives such as “thank you poplar”, or aid which allows to maintain the price of poplar in France.

Even if he mainly turns to more resinous species, Michael Modugno shares this point of view of a sustainable management of the resource through initiatives of preservation, reforestation, but also through the eco-design of products and packaging, “in order to use only the right amount of resources without wasting it”. He also stresses the need to extend the life of wood materials, especially in the pallet sector, by using or reusing it conscientiously. “We can also use recycled wood resources to remanufacture pallets, increasing the life of the material infinitely,” he comments.

The proper use of wood as a resource

François de Vivies specifies however that a single-use food packaging made of wood becomes unsuitable for the packaging of new foodstuffs for regulatory and sanitary reasons. However, it can be used for energy purposes, as firewood for example.

Nicolas Douzain-Didier also talks about adapting his product to the forest resource, and not the other way around. “The great diversity of species in France makes it possible for operators to adapt to the various species present,” he explains. He then specifies that it also gives them the means to anticipate climate change and to help nature adapt to it, for example by favouring certain tree species over others.

The price of wood, a factor to be taken into account

In addition to all these positive aspects, the experts present unanimously noted that wood resources are becoming increasingly expensive: an explosion in prices that was initiated at the very beginning by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Nicolas Douzain-Didier, prices have risen globally by propagation, notably by the increase in the price of energy. “The large reserves we have make wood the most economical material to date,” he said.

The same is true for the pallet sector in terms of prices: knowing that 70% of the price of a pallet is made up of the price of the raw material, the increases in the price of wood and electricity have caused the market to evolve, with a necessary search for balance, with adapted prices.

François de Vivies notes this state of affairs for light packaging: the main difference being that light packaging often operates in short cycles, with an impact on the volumes replanted, which gives the sector a bit of margin.

The ambition of the wood industry

The wood industry is a major player in France: it represents 80 billion in sales and 15% of French industry. “The very nature of our material is essential to the ecological transition,” he says.

As for the PEFC label, it is a tool that guarantees the consumer that the packaging and the product purchased come from sustainably managed forests and controlled sources.

“Wood is the only material capable of responding effectively to all environmental issues”, according to Michael Modigno. Taking the example of the pallet, he insists on the need for the future to reuse as much as possible the resources present, to repair them and to re-enject them into the system, thus limiting the single use of materials.

François de Vivies concludes on the importance for producers to choose the best light packaging, according to their products, but also according to the resources available locally, in order to achieve a short and virtuous loop.

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