1. Wood and Paper Industries


So far in this course module, we have placed a lot of emphasis on the rich multitude of forest benefits, their current importance and future potential with regards to human welfare and wellbeing. However, it is also necessary to recognize the special role forest industries play in society by providing people with ecologically sound and necessary products (i.e., energy, house construction, packaging and printed materials). The commercial value of forests is important and it also plays a significant role in the basic and higher needs of civilized living. Our living standards have always relied on the further processing and manufacturing of wood from forests (i.e., created from wood, pulp and paper) and other forest industries.

The wood industry encompasses sawmilling, planning and impregnation operations. This includes the manufacture of wood-based panels, joinery and the construction industry, carpentry, (including the manufacture of transport pallets, packaging and furniture).


Although, the U.S. is the world’s largest producer and consumer of wood products, in 2004, a total of 91 million m3 of softwood sawn timber and 4 million m3 of plywood were produced in EU 25 countries. The wood products industry employs 1.6 million Europeans directly and an additional 1.9 million indirectly. Companies operating in this sector generated an aggregate turnover of €154 billion.

Sawmilling is the oldest branch of forest industries and its product – sawn pieces of wood (which is basically the same multipurpose intermediate product) can be used for thousands of solid wood products. House construction and other building purposes make up the major share. Unlike many other forest industry products, sawn wood consumption per capita has declined over the past 30 years, exceptions being  the European Union (EU15) and North America.

It has been concluded that on a global level, sawn wood markets will hardly grow from the present volumes of 400 - 450 million m3.  This means that by remaining in this upper range; the advancement of wood products can occur on a larger scale in the future and rising energy prices will slow down the rate of substitution of sawnwood with other engineered wood structure products (Kärkkäinen 2005).

The manufacture of wood-based panels includes:

1. plywood production,
2. particle-board and,
3. fibreboard.

Plywood production in the world has continued to grow since the 1960’s although today this growth rate has slowed down. Traditionally, the Northern USA has been the largest producer of plywood but production has since stagnated. The reason for this is that Asian producers - first Japan with imported materials, then Indonesia and Malaysia using their own wood and most recently China (with imported wood) have increased their presence in the market. Nowadays, Asia produces half of the global output, with production in South America also on the increase.1

The production of particle board and fibre board has substituted sawn wood and plywood production. Recently new products - an oriented strand board (OSB) and medium density fibre board (MDF) - have gained market share. OSB has been used in construction and MDF is rapidly increasing its use in the furniture industry. Both particle board and fibre board can use low-value wood as a raw material.   

Pulp and paper industries

The following animation briefly charts the history or paper making and explains how paper is manufactured.

Figure F9. History paper industry.

In Europe the paper industry is a rather important industrial sector. Overall all, it employs about 275,000 people directly. Indirectly, the amount of jobs it creates reached 1.9 million. In 2004, the paper industry generated an aggregate turnover of €75 billion. There are some 860 forest industry companies in Europe and over 1,200 factories and mills. In Western Europe a total of 94 million tonnes of paper and paperboard were produced.

Both Asia and South America have increased significantly in pulp production in recent years and already make up one fourth of the world’s production (largely due to fast growing plantations). The last decades indicate that the consumption of paper and paperboard products have shown the fastest growth of all products in forest industries. Nowadays, this rise of consumption seems to be more differentiated between products and regions than ever before. For example, in most affluent countries the demand for newspapers seems to be stagnating while it is increasing in many parts of developing countries.

The pulp and paper industries are capital-intensive industries, utilizing economies of scale to be both efficient and competitive in world markets. Although there also exist smaller and often older paper mills, today's newer mills are larger and have more units. Another trend has been consolidation. The industry has experienced significant restructuring and has generally become more concentrated in that many of the major players have either expanded through mergers or acquisitions.

1. Kärkkäinen (2005) assumes that the slow production growth of plywood still continues.

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