Forestry Ink: BC and Canadian pulp industry doing better

Regular columnist Jim Hilton looks at what is happening in the pulp and paper industry

Jim Hilton

Observer Contributor

The recent announcement of the Tolko lumber mill closure in Quesnel this fall is not a surprise considering the imminent shortage of logs due to beetles and wildfires.

With the anticipated loss of lumber production, one would assume a loss of wood chips for the pulp and paper industry would mean mill closures here as well. Some recent announcements of pulp mills would seem to indicate otherwise, so what is happening? Last fall, the premier noted that the recent sale of three paper mills was a vote of confidence in the industry and people of B.C. Investments and acquisitions have been taking place in all of the western provinces, with emphasis on pulp mills producing a wide variety of heavy paper products.

When we talk about reducing the use of paper and we push for paperless offices and we note the declining newspaper business, one would suspect a future decrease in the pulp and paper industry. While the younger generation no doubt favours digital media, there are still enough people who like printed material to make hard copies a significant product. Based on the volume of flyers with the local newspapers, it appears that businesses feel paper advertising is still worth the expenditure.

It doesn’t hurt that we won a small victory when a U.S. International Trade Commission overturned duties on Canadian newsprint.

No doubt the pressure on using less plastics (especially single-use plastic straws, stir sticks, bags, etc.) may be providing more options for paper-based products as well.

According to a study of world consumption by Chester Cheng, Manager at Paper Industry, the tonnage of paper being produced per year for packaging (such as boxes), and hygiene (tissue) is growing at a steady clip. The raw tonnage of paper produced and consumed is still increasing per year. So the declines in printing and writing paper are more than offset by the growth in paper packaging and hygiene products.

The global average paper usage per person — the metric kilogram of paper consumption per capita — is poised to increase since a lot of emerging economies still have per-capita consumption of paper that’s about one-third to half of that in developed economies. Plus, their populations are much larger.

A recent discussion on the CBC proposed alternatives to plastic bags, which could include the use of biodegradable bags for pet owners so that it would be easier for the owners to flush the refuse down the toilet rather than it ending up in the landfill. Alternate methods of pet refuse disposal have already been adopted in some Canadian cities.

From a B.C. and Western Canadian perspective, while the lumber log volumes will suffer a decline, there should still be a significant volume of small stem volumes (live and dead) that will be available for pulp and chips for engineered wood products as well as bioenergy needs.

At least for the next few decades, government, industry and the public will need make necessary adjustments to use wood volumes that have been ignored up to this time.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo-Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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