As Everett residents and businesses continue to work together to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases, some measures may be bringing some unintended consequences.
Take the recent surge in purchases of toilet paper and paper towels, for example. When the current stock is depleted, consumers wonder: Will more be available? How about the take-out packaging for the local restaurants we’re trying to keep open? Or much-needed face masks?
The answer now is probably yes, because Washington’s commercial and residential construction industry has gotten the green light from Gov. Jay Inslee to start back to work. But after the initial quarantine announcement, there were some concerns.
The short road from the construction site to your bathroom
So how do we get from the construction industry to your bathroom, or to the essential products to keep people safe? The route is surprisingly direct, and starts right here in the region’s working forests, sawmills and pulp and paper plants.
“From our community’s renewable, working forests, harvested trees are transported to sawmills, to be transformed into lumber for construction projects and the wood residuals are then sent to paper mills and bio-energy producers to create recyclable consumer goods. Due to the integrated nature of the forest industry, stopping production in one part of the supply chain, ripples throughout the whole supply chain, interrupting essential products produced for housing and consumer wood and paper products,” explains Mark Doumit, from Washington Forest Protection Association.
Lumber and other wood building products are the primary building material in residential housing construction, in addition to numerous infrastructure projects. When sawmills produce lumber for the construction industry, they generate wood residues used in biomass fuel and the pulp and paper sector, including the Port Townsend Paper Company and others in southern and central Washington.
“Pulp and paper mills are part of an interconnected chain of the forest products sector. Our member mills play a vital role in producing the products consumers use every day and in times of crisis,” said Chris McCabe, executive director of the Northwest Pulp & Paper Association. “The COVID-19 outbreak underscores just how important that resource chain is, and why we must continue to provide a supply of raw materials to keep all aspects of our sector active and engaged,” he said. “Paper products rely on a robust supply chain to provide consumers with the products they need.”
When the construction industry slows down – as was the case with the governor’s recent COVID-19 restrictions — the need for timber dries up, and with it, the sawdust and related byproducts used to create toilet paper, paper towels and other essential products. Fortunately, Gov. Inslee has now re-opened low-risk construction projects that can be conducted in a safe manner, which will re-activate the supply of sawdust for these products.
“Washington’s forest sector is diverse but interconnected. We can’t have paper, tissue and hygiene products without raw logs and lumber. It all starts with the harvesting of timber, which provides jobs for foresters, scientists, loggers, truckers and many others,” said Nick Smith, Director of Public Affairs for the American Forest Resource Council. “Demand for lumber, such as for home construction, is necessary to keep our sawmills open. And pulp and paper manufacturers rely on chips and other residual products from the sawmills to power their own mills and produce our everyday paper, tissue and hygiene products,” he said.
“There are many types of businesses in our forest sector, but one can’t thrive without the other.”
In times of crisis and calm, forest products matter, but so does the entire chain that supports their use.