As residents and businesses on the Olympic Peninsula work together to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases, some measures may be bringing some unintended consequences.
Take the recent interest in toilet paper and paper towels, for example. When the current stock is depleted, will more be available? How about the take-out packaging for the local restaurants we’re trying to keep open? Or much-needed face masks?
The answer might depend on whether Washington’s commercial and residential construction is added to the existing list of essential services.
The short road from the construction site to your bathroom
So how do we get from the construction industry to your bathroom, or to the essential products to keep people safe? The route is surprisingly direct, and starts right here in the region’s working forests, sawmills and pulp and paper plants.
“From our community’s renewable, working forests, harvested trees are transported to sawmills, to be transformed into lumber for construction projects and the wood residuals are then sent to paper mills and bio-energy producers to create recyclable consumer goods. Due to the integrated nature of the forest industry, stopping production one part of the supply chain, ripples throughout the whole supply chain, interrupting essential products produced for housing and consumer wood and paper products.,” explains Cindy Mitchell, from Washington Forest Protection Association.
Here’s the current hiccup: While workers who support the manufacture and distribution of forest products, including timber, paper and other wood products, have been declared essential, that designation doesn’t extend to commercial and residential construction, other than some specialized projects, such as publicly financed low-income housing.
Lumber and other wood building products are the primary building material in residential housing construction, in addition to numerous infrastructure projects. When sawmills produce lumber for the construction industry, they generate wood residues used in biomass fuel and the pulp and paper sector, like the Port Townsend Paper Company.
“Pulp and paper mills are part of an interconnected chain of the forest products sector. Our member mills play a vital role in producing the products consumers use every day and in times of crisis,” said Chris McCabe, executive director of the Northwest Pulp & Paper Association. “The COVID-19 outbreak underscores just how important that resource chain is, and why we must continue to provide a supply of raw materials to keep all aspects of our sector active and engaged,” he said. “Paper products rely on a robust supply chain to provide consumers with the products they need.”
However, without a fully operating working construction industry, the need for timber dries up, and with it, the sawdust and related byproducts used to create toilet paper, paper towels and other essential products.
“Washington’s forest sector is diverse but interconnected. We can’t have paper, tissue and hygiene products without raw logs and lumber. It all starts with the harvesting of timber, which provides jobs for foresters, scientists, loggers, truckers and many others,” said Nick Smith, Director of Public Affairs for the American Forest Resource Council. “Demand for lumber, such as for home construction, is necessary to keep our sawmills open. And pulp and paper manufacturers rely on chips and other residual products from the sawmills to power their own mills and produce our everyday paper, tissue and hygiene products,” he said.