Japanese start to spurn natural forests

Japanese paper factories are now demanding their woodchips come from trees that are less than 15 years old , either from plantations or young regrowth, rather than natural forests. This has caused the recent 40% drop in woodchip sales from Tasmania’s forests.

Regrowth please

In East Gippsland there’s been a substantial increase in chipping young trees that have regrown from the clearfelling of forests 20 and 30 years ago. These operations are called ‘thinnings’, supposedly to make the sparsely spaced trees remaining, grow faster and fatter (see photo). This is a convenient way to cut thousands of tonnes of the high quality trees perfect for fussy Japanese paper companies.

Young trees are white, uniform and easy to process into paper. Those from plantations in Chile and Brazil are even cheaper than Tasmanian woodchips. But even so, the Japanese are still prepared to pay $17 more a tonne for the cleaner plantation woodchips. This has caused a crisis within the logging industry down there but East Gippsland is slower to feel the impact. It could be that the Eden woodchip mill, despite its own parent company in Japan using the high quality young trees, also sells to less fussy customers like Taiwan.

There’s also a move by paper companies to use ‘eco-certified’ wood. Now that they are getting much of their wood from plantations anyway, it makes sense to cash in on this fact. This gives them the to opportunity to brand their paper as environmentally friendly. They can choose between two certification systems, the genuine item or the cheap and nasty industry look-alike. Paper companies that are serious about their eco-credentials will shy away from native forest woodchips and the tacky AFS certification label. Organisations such as The Wilderness Society have scared off many Japanese customers further down the paper chain, like printers and publishers.

Great Southern Plantations in WA has swiped two of Gunns’ woodchip customers already. It is selling blue gum chips to Daio Paper in Japan, and has just signed a new deal with Oji Paper. Mitsubishi has also said it will look at less controversial sources for woodchips. Nippon is the biggest paper manufacturer in Japan and owns the Eden woodchip mill – where the mass rally is on July 2nd. It is moving a bit more slowly.

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