In tune with the circular economy, virtuous companies are standing out for aware use of forestry resources and regeneration of post-consumer waste. The prospects for 2030: a wood-furniture industry with 50% of panels produced with recycled material

Italy is a European leader in the circular economy and the recycling of refuse, in keeping with various key indicators: recycling rate, use of ‘secondary’ raw materials, productivity and per capita resource consumption, according to the Greenitaly Report 2019 of Fondazione Symbola. The most important flows of second-use materials are the so-called traditional recyclables – paper, plastic, glass, metals, wood and textiles – which correspond to 27.8 million tons, the highest value in Europe. Today, over 95% of post-consumer wood waste goes into the production of panels for the furniture industry. Often the forestry sector itself suggests important sustainability initiatives.

Like the Filiera Solidale PEFC, which promotes the purchase of timber from trees felled by the Vaia tempest, as a replacement for imported wood – imports account for 80% of the material processed in Italy. The storm struck on 29 October 2018, felling 8.6 million cubic meters of timber in the Alpine forests of the northeast – equivalent to the amount that would normally be harvested in 5-7 years. Itlas has gotten involved: the company is willing to purchase all the beech trees felled, in a quantity three times greater than the yearly production requirements. The fallen timber has a price higher than its market value, with the aim of financial support for the rebirth of the forest. Itlas was already on hand ten years ago in the territory, promoting controlled use of the beech trees of the Forest of Cansiglio in three-layered prefinished zero-km flooring. The use of felled timber in the Assi del Cansiglio collection sets out to support Goal 12 of the Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development, encouraging reduction of waste through increased use of salvaged material.

The activity of recovery of post-consumer wood in Italy is channeled by 30% into the production of recycled packing, with the remainder (as much as 3.5 million tons) goes into regeneration for the chipboard industry."

A pathway of sustainability can also be blazed by those who directly control the entire production chain, from the log to the finished wood. This is the case of Gruppo Alpi, which in 1975 opened its first facility in Cameroon to ensure a constant supply of materials for the production of veneers, while managing the 500,000 hectares of forest through plans for protection and development of the local population. Two types of wood scrap are generated in the entire production process: the first is a result of mechanical working, while the second comes from the chemical-physical alteration of the wood. The round pieces and the bark of poplars, for example, sourced from Italian cultivation, can be recycled to create packaging or soil for the nearby fruit industry, or for the production of chipboard panels. The other type of scrap, mostly in the form of shavings and chips, goes only into the production of panels. More in general, the Alpi production process, calling for the deconstruction and reassembly of the timber by layering sheared sheets, permits use of part of most of the material in the production cycle, reducing the high amount of shavings involved in standard operations.

Research conducted by the Milan Polytechnic in February 2019 (“The circular system of the wood supply and production chain for a new economy”) shows that the activity of recovery of post-consumer wood in Italy is channeled by 30% into the production of recycled packing, with the remainder (as much as 3.5 million tons) goes into regeneration for the chipboard industry. A virtuous process that permits savings in CO2 of nearly one million tons, equal to 2% of the annual amount produced in Italia. This is an indispensable path with an eye on 2030, the date in which the wood-furniture sector expects 50% of panels to be produced with recycled material.

Una ricerca condotta dal Politecnico di Milano nel febbraio 2019 (“Il sistema circolare della filiera legno per una nuova economia”) ha evidenziato che la filiera delle attività di recupero del legno post-consumo in Italia è confluita per il 30% nella produzione di imballaggi di riciclo e per la parte restante (ben 3,5milioni di tonnellate) nella rivalorizzazione dell’industria del pannello truciolare. Un processo virtuoso che ha permesso un risparmio nel consumo di CO2 di quasi un milione di tonnellate, pari al 2% della quantità annua prodotta in Italia. È una strada imprescindibile in vista del 2030, data in cui il settore del legno-arredo chiede il 50% dei pannelli prodotti con materiale riciclato.

From the early 1970s Gruppo Saviola has readied a sustainable business model. In 1992 the first ecological panel was born, with FSC 100% recycled certification, derived completely from recycled wood, which now means 1,200,000 tons of wood recovered each year in over 20 collection centers in Italy and Europe. 50 million square meters of melamine panels are produced each year, meaning about 10,000 trees are saved each day. Saviola is one of the most important transformers of wood waste in the world. Besides its raw and melamine ecological panels, it offers other products like laminates, borders and backs, creating a complete package for the furniture industry and the contract sector.

Saib is another important Italian manufacturer of chipboard panels, rough or veneered. With the Rewood project the company has initiated recovery all over Europe of about 500,000 tons of wood at the end of its life cycle, including pallets, fruit crates, packing materials, scaffolding boards and discarded furniture, preventing the felling of 750,000 trees per year. Through the use of advanced technologies, the wood scrap is separated from other components in metal, stone, glass or fabric, which are then directed into separate recycling chains. An investment of 20 million euros for a new drying facility and a filtering system will reduce atmospheric  emissions by 30%.

Italy is a European leader in the circular economy and the recycling of refuse, in keeping with various key indicators: recycling rate, use of ‘secondary’ raw materials, productivity and per capita resource consumption."

Fantoni is the largest producer of MDF panels in Italy and one of the leading players in Europe, with annual production capacity of 450,000 cubic meters (FSC and PEFC certified for sustainability of the wood, with Carb certification for formaldehyde emissions), joined by 360,000 tons of chipboard panels. ISO 14001 certified and with a group of companies covering the entire cycle – from self-production of energy to resins and glues, raw materials to finished products to logistics – each year Fantoni recovers 420,000 tons of post-consumer wood and scrap from the manufacture of wood products. The company’s offerings have a rate of recyclability ranging from 80% to 98%, with a free disposal service at the end of its life cycle for wood suitable for recycling. The group has just announced an investment plan of 25 million euros to create a chipboard panel with differentiated grain out of 100% recycled material, joined by three-layer MDF in which 50% of the wood will be recycled. Finally, Fantoni is providing for the removal of the stumps and logs felled in Carnia by the Vaia tempest, which will be inserted in the corporate production cycle, while contributing to the regeneration of the forest.

With a product patented since 1984 featuring a structure in cross-bonded birch plywood, for over 50 years Listone Giordano has moved in the direction of responsible use of forestry resources, concentrating on sourcing from Burgundy. Here the raw materials are selected based on an inventory of trees, monitored throughout their growth within an integrated cycle of 180 years that guarantees augmentation of forestry heritage. Besides obtaining FSC and PEFC certification for its products, for about ten years Listone Giordano has carried out an experiment of broadleaf reforestation at Piegaro-Città della Pieve (Perugia), planting 22,000 new oak trees in a territory of over 160 hectares.