Recycling of Wood –preserving the carbon bank

We are all aware that wood and timber products are made from trees, indigenous or exotic commercially grown source. The importance of plastic, glass, paper, metals and bio mass (compost) recycling is important and wood is no exception. Locked up in wood/timber products is carbon (C). We regularly hear that carbon is the culprit in greenhouse gases which locks in infra red radiation from the sun, thereby slowly raising the earths mean temperature.

Plants through photosynthesis use carbon as cell building blocks and to produce carbohydrates (sugars, cellulose, glucose,  starches). Land creatures consume plants as food thereby transferring the carbon to their bodies. Upon death, both plants and animals release the carbon for reuse when they decay. New plants again use the released carbon to grow. As can be seen nature recycles carbon. Prior to mans discovery of oil, gas and coal (fossil fuels) carbon storing/release by trees and plants was in balance.

Man with his use of fossil fuels to improve the quality of life has upset the atmospheric carbon balance. With world population growth the need for fossil fuels increases. Coal, a huge source of banked carbon is the main fuel for the generation of South Africa’s electrical energy. Huge amounts of stored carbon are also released through burning of natural forest for agriculture land.

Trees due to their general size and long life span are valuable carbon re-bankers. Afforestation and especially sustainable commercial forests contribute positively in reducing the carbon footprint of a country or community. Mature trees are harvested for their timber and paper is also produced. In a commercial forest the clear felled land is soon  as possible re-afforested and as the trees grow they capture more carbon. The carbon content of a tree is approximately 50% of its dry mass. Even the roots contain carbon.

As paper is mainly cellulose (a sugar) and cellulose is produced by plants from carbon any recycling of paper helps keep carbon locked up. We saw in the article on paper recycling a metric ton of paper saves 17 mature trees. Simply put paper recycling is a double plus for keeping carbon locked up (banked).

Trees through the process of sawmilling are turned into timber (planks, lumber). This timber is now used to manufacture a wide variety of products ranging from houses, (whole house or parts thereof such as roof trusses), furniture, toys, fencing poles, railway sleepers etc. Timber houses can survive a 100 years plus keeping carbon banked, furniture 60 years, paper and palettes up to 6 years.

By introducing more wood products into our homes as apposed to plastic or metal products we help reduce our carbon footprint. Restoring decades old used furnished obtained from a pawn shop can be a rewarding experience. It can also be a cost effective way to tastefully decorate a home.

When we light a fire for our traditional South African braai we release banked carbon into the atmosphere. There is nothing wrong at this point, however be thrifty and keep the amount of wood, charcoal to a minimum. We need to consider the future generations.


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