From staple goods to essentials: How the forest sector provides support during a crisis
2020 started with a crisis: a global pandemic surrounded by unprecedented uncertainty and economic recessions. While COVID-19 dominated headlines, so did stories about shortages of personal protective equipment like medical gowns and masks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the forest sector was deemed essential to the well-being of Canadians because it directly supplies key sanitary household products and inputs for the production of numerous essential products and services, including medical gowns and non-medical masks.
An unprecedented start to 2020
A novel form of coronavirus and its associated disease, known as COVID-19, caused the pandemic in early 2020. COVID-19 causes pneumonia-like symptoms, including fever and difficulty breathing, and disproportionally affects elderly people and those with underlying health problems or compromised immune systems.
As in most countries around the world, confinement measures were put in place in Canada to slow the spread of the disease and ease the potential strain of an outbreak on the medical system until a treatment or vaccine can help protect Canadians. The side effect has been an extraordinary economic slowdown.
While Canada’s lockdown measures aimed to avert a health crisis, not all economic activities could be halted. Canada still needed to support critical infrastructure and the production of essential goods and services to ensure the health, safety and security of Canadians. In the days and weeks following lockdown announcements, governments in Canada identified the forest sector as playing an essential role in the lives of Canadians.
How forest sector workers helped “flatten the curve”
“Flattening the curve” refers to the public health strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19. Confinement and physical distancing measures reduce the spread of the virus so that the number of people needing medical attention at the same time does not exceed the medical system’s ability to care for them.
Forest sector workers continued to provide essential goods and services during the peak of the pandemic. Workplaces, including the forest sector, took steps to keep workers safe by reducing the workforce to maintain physical distancing, providing health screening to employees, wearing personal protective equipment, sequestering work teams and using technology to work remotely. Field workers, such as tree planters, also played their part in flattening the curve by working in self-contained camps with enhanced health and safety measures in place and reducing their interactions with local rural and Indigenous communities.
The integrated forest sector plays an essential role during a crisis
The Canadian forest sector provides day-to-day essentials to Canadians, such as toilet paper, sanitary products, and packaging and food-packing materials. It also supplies materials needed to make personal protective equipment – a crucial supply during a pandemic – such as protective medical gowns and hygiene products.
In addition, the forest sector provides essential services such as community wastewater treatment and power and heat in rural and remote communities. And though the construction industry was put on pause at the peak of the pandemic, timber and wood building supplies continued to be essential to the repair and maintenance of essential infrastructure.
There is still considerable uncertainty about how the global pandemic will affect Canadians and economies around the world over the long-term. But one thing is certain: the forest sector will continue to provide the goods and services we need.
The forest sector is integrated and relies on sustainably managed forests to deliver essential products and services to Canadians. The forestry and logging subsector provides the pulp and paper manufacturing subsector and the wood product manufacturing subsector with the wood fibre needed to produce a variety of innovative and traditional products.
This diagram shows how wood fibre moves from sustainably managed forests into the forest subsectors to become essential products and services for Canadians.
The forest sector is made up of three subsectors: (1) forestry and logging, (2) wood product manufacturing and (3) pulp and paper manufacturing.
The forestry and logging subsector harvests trees from sustainably managed forests, which then flows as wood fibre into the other two forestry sub-sectors: wood product manufacturing and pulp and paper manufacturing.
The wood product manufacturing subsector produces the wood products needed to help maintain buildings and other infrastructure, as well as bioenergy. Waste and residues are used to create bioenergy that helps heat and power communities across Canada. The wood product manufacturing subsector is highly integrated with the pulp and paper manufacturing subsector because residues from wood product manufacturing are used in pulp and paper mills.
Within the pulp and paper manufacturing subsector, paper mills produce essential material for sanitary and hygienic paper products, food and goods packaging, as well as the material for the newspapers and flyers that help inform Canadians. They also make personal protective equipment such as medical gowns. Additionally, the pulp and paper manufacturing subsector creates bioenergy from the residues of its industrial activities, which helps heat and power some Canadian communities. In some communities, pulp mills treat municipal wastewater.
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