By Laura Keil

Last week I reported about the first shipment of finished product, 8×8 pieces of hemlock, from the Valemount Community Forest’s new mill. 

Beyond this, test pieces from the new mill have been purchased by locals for backyard projects; waste chips are shipped to pulp mills, burned as biofuel, and the sawdust used on farms.

While these are humble beginnings, the hope, according to Valemount Community Forest manager Craig Pryor and VCF board members, is that the mill will not only find more markets but also encourage spinoff industries at the industrial park.

This is a powerful idea, as “value-added” wood products are known for their profitability and job creation. They can also be highly diverse. Think mom and pop shops with unique ready-made wood products. There are already a couple low-profile businesses such as the family-run Treasures of the Forest furniture biz that uses pieces from Valemount’s cedar mill.

In the environmental world, climate change gets most of the airtime but another unfortunate crisis is building: plastic pollution. Most products that we recognize as plastic take thousands of years to degrade. And even when they do disintegrate, they often just break down into smaller and smaller pieces which can wreak havoc on wildlife and ecosystems. Responsibly harvested wood products are making a major comeback. 

In Barcelona I was amazed at the complete absence of plastic take away containers and the use of tiny wooden spoons any time we bought gelato. Similarly in Warsaw, our coffee cups were made entirely of thick paper, including the lids. And why not? They only have to last an hour at most. Why use something that ends up lasting a thousand years? Plastic is only recyclable to a point, not indefinitely, which means ultimately it still ends up as trash.

Shifting to paper products not only reduces our plastic waste, it also strengthens our identity and integrity as forestry communities. It honours an important local industry and our future world.

Imagine a seaside community not embracing sea products. Or a farming valley not embracing farm products. Similarly with our forestry communities.

I encourage every business to look at ways they can link into forestry-based products and brag about it every chance they get.