Where does Unilin Group source its wood?
Wood is one of the most crucial raw materials for Unilin Group but that doesn't mean our production units process a steady supply of fresh wood. Quite the opposite, in fact. “We are Belgium's largest wood recycling company”, says Lasse Six, sustainability expert at Unilin Group.
It's fair to say that Unilin Group has a genuine love of wood. A passion even. That's not surprising as many of our products use wood as a basic raw material. This passion translates into a transparent vision of how we treat wood. We adopt a sustainable approach and minimise the percentage of new wood in the production process. So where does Unilin Group source its wood?
Lasse, could you start by telling us which products of the Unilin Group use wood?
Lasse: “We mainly use wood for laminate and parquet flooring, MDF and HDF boards and chipboards. A small portion goes to our insulating roof elements.”
If it's not new wood, where does it come from?
“There are two options: the wood is either recycled or recovered. In the first case we are talking about waste wood. Think of worn pallets or wood from demolition works, old furniture that you take to your local waste recycling centre in Belgium or the Netherlands, … The content in this category varies a great deal in terms of quality. Clean, untreated wood such as pallets or fruit boxes are category A waste wood. This wood is easy to recycle but meanwhile we've made significant technological advances.
Since 2014, we have invested no less than €40 million in a state-of-the-art sorting and cleaning installation. The most advanced machine in our industry is right here in Oostrozebeke! This means that now we can also safely recycle B category wood of lesser quality. Currently we recycle 900,000 tons of wood per year, making us Belgium's largest wood recycling company. Incidentally, the wood we recycle is also sourced from the wider area, within a 400 km radius from our production sites in West Flanders. We mainly use this wood for our chipboards, which are composed of 90% recycled wood and 10% recovered wood.
Recovered wood is waste wood that has no further applications and would otherwise be incinerated. Just think of wood pruned during verge maintenance along the motorway. Tree trunks and branches that are too small, crooked or bent for other applications can still be used in our production sites in Belgium and France. For instance, we process them in our MDF boards which consist of 100% recovered wood.”
Does that mean that not a single tree is cleared for certain products?
“We do this to a very limited extent for our parquet flooring. Our parquet has a 3mm oak top layer. The high-quality wood we use for this purpose is FSC certified, meaning it is sourced from sustainable forestry. So this oak wood is also a sustainable raw material and what's more, it stimulates foresters to also plant oak trees, which grow at a much slower rate than softwood.
This parquet flooring is manufactured in Malaysia and its core is made of rubber tree wood, for instance. Actually, you could also call this recovered wood as it is sourced from local rubber trees which no longer produce enough rubber. After 25 years the rubber plantations log these trees to make room for younger, more productive specimens. We prolong the life of this wood by processing it into parquet flooring.”
So you go the extra mile to manufacture sustainable wood products. But I understand there's more?
“Absolutely. We aim to keep wood in circulation as long as possible and prolong its useful life as much as we can. Chipboards from 90% recycled wood are a huge step in the right direction but obviously it doesn't stop there. Our next goal is to do the same with our MDF and HDF boards. You see, until recently it was impossible to recycle MDF and HDF boards and laminate (which uses HDF boards as a base) on an industrial scale.
In 2021 we managed to develop a new and innovative process, making us the first in the world to recycle this material after all and reuse it for the production of new panel material. We now want to further develop and scale up this technology, for instance for the production of our decorative Evola panels or Quick-Step laminate floors.”
In order to implement a structural sustainable approach on a global scale, Unilin Group recently launched its sustainability strategy ‘One Home’.
The strategy is designed to get all divisions on the same page as we strive to make Unilin Group a circular and sustainable company. There is no limit to our ambitions!