By 2030, the Australian population is expected to grow a further 6.2million. This means an extra 2.7million homes, 125,000 retirement villages and 24,000 more hospitals. But current forecasts suggest there will not be enough homes to meet this demand. Yes, our governments have been slow to respond to this inevitable growth (don’t get me started!), but what about the resources required to build all these new dwellings? With current growth forecasts, it is seeming like sustainable building materials will be carrying a larger load as we move closer to 2030.

The Australian Timber Sector yields over $2 billion worth of exports and over $20 billion worth of manufacturing sales and services domestically (ABARES 2014a). However, sustainable building materials are becoming increasingly prevalent as the timber industry continues to face crisis, with hardwood supplies rapidly depleting, and with Victoria’s Hardwood Mill closing down in April 2017.

“[There’s] not enough timber and essentially a sawmilling industry and a paper industry that’s going to collapse,” says ANU Prof David Lindemayer who has studied forest ecosystems and the effects of logging and fire for more than 30 years. “There is a need to replace hardwood logging with plantation timber”, he says. But the reality just isn’t that simple. Plantation and forest hardwoods have different uses, and plantation timber is not always a suitable substitute.

Australia has started to import more hardwood products from Java/Indonesia, New Zealand, South America etc, but there is inconsistent quality in these imported products. These then become inefficiencies for the end user – the builders – with inconsistent sizes/dimensions and warping, which results in more time in installation.

Alternatives to native Australian hardwoods include sustainable building materials such as Wood Plastic Composites, or WPC’s as well as ‘Co Extruded’ WPC (a plastic coated product). These products are relatively new to the Australian market, around 10 years or so. These ‘Manufactured’ wood products are made from recycled timber and plastics, and are slowly gaining market acceptance, however more education for the Building and Construction industries is required for this new generation of alternative building materials.

We need to seriously look at these sustainable building materials, and Victorian Association of Forrest Industries CEO, Tim Johnston says “There’s constant work going into using Composites … and issues of supply could be solved by being ‘creative around the resource mix’.”

Working Towards a More Sustainable Australia

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