Ensuring sustainability of the wood-based industry

Long-term growth: There is huge demand for timber products but they have to be harvested sustainably for the longevity of the industry.

Long-term growth: There is huge demand for timber products but they have to be harvested sustainably for the longevity of the industry.

SUSTAINABILITY is one of the key issues facing wood-based industry. Indeed the timber industry is a significant part of the economy, contributing about 1.7% to the national gross domestic product (GDP) with earnings of RM23.2bil in 2017.

But the wood industry creates a ton of waste – offcuts, sawdust, bark and unusable logs often end up in already over-utilised landfills.

This is why taking this “waste” and turning it into something usable like laminated flooring is important.

The core of laminated flooring is the fibreboard, which is made up of small pieces of wood pressed together as opposed to a single piece of hardwood, and it is the perfect outlet for bringing together recycled materials, says Inovar Resources Sdn Bhd executive director Jason Tan.

Inovar is the market leader and pioneer in the laminated flooring business in the Asean region.

Hardwood flooring, on the other hand, is made of harvested trees, says Tan.

Hardwood is generally much more expensive to buy and to install. Its pricing depends on how exotic the trees are.

It is also much more difficult to adopt automation, which is increasingly critical in having a sustainable and scalable manufacturing business, for hardwood manufacturing.

“There is a huge international market for downstream timber products that will provide good revenue. Adopting the harvesting method is one of the most effective solutions to sustainable logging, as it involves only mature trees to be harvested while leaving the immature ones to continue growing,” he says. Tropical timber exports from Malaysia (of which Sarawak accounts for almost 70% of the total) have been steadily dropping from more than 26 million cubic metres in 1991 to less than 8 million cubic meters in 2016. Besides Japan, Malaysia’s is also exporting logs to China, the Philippines and India.

More than just diminishing raw material supply, Tan highlights that the key issues faced by the Malaysian timber industry are market access, labour and access to financial facilities for small and medium enterprise. Workforce availability is a dire issue within the timber industry, followed by the availability of raw material supply.

Neighbouring countries like Indonesia, Cambodia and Myanmar have already banned the export of logs and sawn timber to encourage more downstream activities and are providing incentives for companies to invest in technologically-advanced automated machinery to process their raw materials.

With Malaysia heading towards being less reliant on foreign workers, the timber industry needs to adjust to these changes by investing in automation and mechanisation, says Tan. — C.H. Goh

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