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The Benefits of Biochar-Another Way to Win with Wood

Oregon Department of Forestry, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Finding profitable markets for residual wood material is an ongoing challenge for many forest products companies. Forest thinnings, logging slash, as well as wood products milling, and recycling fiber are all regularly generated. Markets such as biomass, bedding, landscaping mulch, pulp mills, OSB plants, and others are well established, but the low value of fiber means that it is not economically viable to ship considerable distances.

Biochar production has often been looked at as a potentially exciting opportunity for such material yet demand for biochar has been slow to materialize. Change may soon be on the horizon, however, as one biochar producer has recently secured the first carbon credits for biochar in the United States.

What is a Carbon Credit?

A carbon credit, also referred to as a carbon offset or a carbon offset credit, is a generic term for any tradable certificate or permit representing the right to emit a metric ton of carbon dioxide or the equivalent amount of different greenhouse gases.

A company purchases carbon credits to offset its own greenhouse gas emissions. In the recently announced case, the biochar producer sells the biochar to farmers, who apply it to their soil.

As such, carbon is sequestered underground rather than returning to the atmosphere, creating a carbon sink that has now been recognized by a carbon credit certification group. Companies purchasing biochar carbon credits help improve the economics of biochar for producers and consumers of the product.

What is Biochar and it’s Benefits?

Biochar can be described as the solid material obtained from the thermochemical conversion of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment in a process called pyrolysis. That low oxygen environment results in the creation of charcoal rather than merely residual ash.

USDA describes the benefits of biochar as “incredible—improved soil health, enhanced soil water holding capacity, increased plant growth and vigor, cleaner air quality, and perhaps most importantly… the ability to sequester carbon forever.”

Biochar improves soil fertility in two ways. The first and primary advantage is that it aids in retaining soil nutrients from fertilizer and other sources. Secondly, biochar can provide nutrients such as potassium, a limited amount of phosphorus, and other micronutrients. Given that most agricultural soils have been depleted of considerable amounts of carbon in recent decades, the addition of biochar can help reverse the loss.

Farmers can realize long-term improvements to soil health and crop yield with biochar inputs. In one multi-year study, funded by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), was administered by Sonoma Ecology Center and included support from researchers from the University of California, Riverside, the results were impressive. Biochar increased pinot noir grape yield by an average of 1.2 tons per acre over two years of harvest, paying back the cost of biochar application in just the first year.

There are other applications for biochar. Uses include filtration systems, stormwater management, remediation, and composites. Although in its early stages, biofiber is a good candidate in the latter application as a substitute for costlier and higher environmental impact carbon forms.

Biochar and Climate Change

Beyond its benefits for farming and other applications, biochar also is widely acknowledged for its carbon sequestration benefits in the fight against global warming. It is listed as one of the top five natural climate solutions for climate change mitigation in a 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

However, the role of biochar in preventing climate change is not guaranteed. As one article notes, biochar production results from combustion, with greenhouse gases given off in the process

Yet, when energy from the pyrolysis process is harnessed and used in a way that displaces the need for fossil fuels in electricity production, for example, the result may be a positive carbon balance. Such has been the case for the California producer, which utilizes biomass waste removed from sustainably managed, high-risk forests to generate electricity. Its success has now been recognized through the issue of carbon credits.

As businesses increasingly look to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to offset the emissions they still create, carbon credits may hold the key to accelerating demand for biochar. The biochar market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16.45% through 2025.

United Nations Supports Using Sustainably Sourced Wood Products

United Nations Supports Using Sustainably Sourced Wood Products

More and more organizations, businesses and even individuals are pitching in when it comes to preserving, protecting and managing forests.  The United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) previously made headlines when they launched the UN’s first strategic plan for forests in January 2017.  The drafted Strategic Plan for Forests includes six voluntary Global Forest Goals which forest organizations hope to reach by 2030.

  • Increase forest area by 3% across the globe
  • Increase in use of forest products from sustainably managed forests
  • Implement sustainable forest management plans worldwide by 2020
  • Eliminate poverty for people dependent on forests
  • Develop new financial resources that support forest growth and conservation
  • Increase and conserve protected forest areas
  • Grow the number of countries that participate in these goals worldwide

The goals are to reverse the loss of forest cover across the globe, promote economic, social, and environmental incentives tied to forest growth, grow the percentage of sustainably managed forests worldwide, develop financial resources to attain these goals, promote frameworks that governments can use to implement these programs, and raise the efforts of cooperation of forest related issues among governments.

Nature’s Packaging is committed to the use of sustainably sourced lumber for wood packaging products. The rate of deforestation in North American forests has essentially been zero for decades, thus aiding in the goals set forth by the UNFF special session in January of 2017. Not only does using sustainably sourced lumber preserve forests but wood pallets are recyclable and recycling wood pallets helps fight climate change. Our carbon calculator estimations are based on the EPA Waste Reduction Model for dimensional lumber and it supports these facts. It shows that recycling 100 wood pallets saves 2.81 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each month. This is the equivalent of taking 10 cars off the road! For more information visit the link below to our carbon calculator.

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Mars Corp Creates a Sustainable Plan

Mars Corp Creates a Sustainable Plan

Our world’s natural sources are limited and more big businesses seem to be taking the initiative to lower their environmental impact, preserving these limited, valuable resources.  Mars Corp. recently launched their Sustainable in a Generation Plan that is intended to create a healthier planet by doing what’s right instead of what’s better.

Who is the Mars Corporation?

Image supplied by Pixabay distributed under CC-BY 2.0 License

The Mars Corporation was developed by Frank C. Mars more than 100 years ago.  Their first products were in chocolate and the first brand they established was Milky Way.  Over the years, the company has developed and grown tremendously and they have expanded to many other industries, including pet care, chewing gum, and beverages.  The Mars Corporation distributes products worldwide with more than 80,000 associates, they impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Sustainable in Generation

Mars Corp launched a huge plan of action called Sustainable in Generation.  According to their website, their plan involves creating a better planet by using a planetary boundaries analysis to control the impact their business has on the world.  Some of their goals are:

  • Stop all greenhouse gas emissions by 2040
  • Control all resources for sustainability by 2020
  • Reduce impacts on Water Use
  • Reduce impacts on Land Use

Recycling Wood Pallets Reduces Carbon Emissions

Wood pallets are commonly used in food transportation, food storage and for many more uses.  This is a good thing because using sustainably sourced lumber helps the environment. As trees in sustainably managed forests grow, they absorb carbon from the atmosphere and wood continues to store carbon until it decomposes or burns. In fact, according to our Carbon Calculator that’s based on the EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM) for dimensional lumber, recycling just 100 wood pallets saves 2.81 carbon dioxide emissions per month (in metric tons). This is the equivalent of taking 10 cars off the road!

Go for the Win-Win

According to the Mars website, Barry Parkin, the Chief Sustainability and Health & Wellbeing Officer, believes there are four things that sets this approach apart from others:

  1. Do What’s Right Instead of What’s Better
  2. Go for the Win-Win
  3. Uncommon Collaborations
  4. Amplify the Impact

The North American wood pallet industry started recycling pallets in the 1970’s by diverting them from landfills. Current figures estimate there are more than 4 billion wood pallets in circulation, more than any other type of pallet, because wood pallets are strong, durable, and 100% recyclable. In fact, about half of a wood pallet’s weight is carbon, which was sequestered from the atmosphere! The use of wood pallets is a win-win because it helps the environment and ensures products will arrive at their final destination safely.

 

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Recycling Wood Pallets Reduces Carbon Emissions

Recycling Wood Pallets Reduces Carbon Emissions

As large companies like Citi, Shell, and Walmart commit to sustainability, it’s clear that big businesses will continue to invest in sustainability and renewable resources. Walmart recently announced its intention to reduce their company’s carbon footprint through Project Gigaton. Walmart’s pledge is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by one Gigaton of CO2 emissions between now and 2020 through its supply chain, which is the equivalent of taking more than 211 million passenger cars off the roads in the United States for one year.

How does recycling wood pallets help take cars off the road?

According to the article Pallet Re-Use and Recycling Saves High Value Material from Landfills published in 2010, 357 million pallets are recycled each year. We designed this carbon calculator based off the EPA Waste Reduction Model to demonstrate. Simply put, every 10 wood pallets recycled is equivalent to taking 1 car off the road.

Recall that Walmart’s goal is to remove from its supply chain the equivalent of taking 121 million cars off the road. According to the aforementioned research, 357 million pallets are recycled each year. According to our EPA approved calculator, this is the equivalent of taking more than 34 million cars off the road. To put this in perspective, if 357 million pallets have been recycled every year between now and 2010, then the requirements for Walmart’s Project Gigaton will be fulfilled by January 1st, 2018.

These numbers are too big to ignore.

Wood pallets are often overlooked by purchasing agents as an expensive shipping cost. However, fifty percent of the net weight of a wood pallet is carbon. That carbon was sequestered from the atmosphere during the tree’s growth phase and will remain in that product throughout its life. Without having a place to store that carbon, it would simply be re-released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Storing carbon in wood products and continuing to recycle wood products like pallets will continue to have a tremendous impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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