Up to now, it has hardly been possible to detect tropical hardwoods in paper. This is about to change. Four German institutes/universities – Darmstadt Technical University, Hamburg University, the von-Thünen-Institute and the trade testing and consulting institute ISEGA – are currently developing an inexpensive and simple analysis method for tropical hardwood fibres, as reported by the Technische Universität Darmstadt mid-March 2012. The project has received Euro 280 000 financing from the German environmental foundation DBU (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt). The background to the work is a new EU legislation that requires pulp and paper manufacturers to provide information as of 2013 on which wood species were used.
400 million tons of paper are produced each year – and an unknown quantity of this contains illegally logged tropical hardwoods. A rapid and inexpensive method to detect which wood fibres are used in production is therefore urgently needed.
To date, non-definable fibres were considered to be an indication of tropical hardwoods but it was not possible to differentiate more clearly. It is difficult to precisely classify the fibres because during paper manufacturing lignin is removed by boiling, which destroys much of the fibre information. It has rarely been possible to exactly determine the wood species to date.
The scientists are drawing up a fibre atlas containing information on the cells of tropical hardwoods and their distinctive features. Images of the fibre form and structure make it easier to identify the fibres using light microscopy. It will be possible to identify at least 28 species of tropical trees and make this available to the public. The atlas is to be completed this year. In a second step, the paper engineers intend to create a suitable microscopy procedure to identify the fibres. The third step aims to automate the light microscopy process and lower the inputs of time and costs needed to analyse the paper. The scientists plan to develop an automatic recognition analysis of the individual cells of a paper product; each individual cell can then be scanned and screened for typical features of specific tropical hardwood species. The von-Thünen Institute is developing an electron microscopic technique to support this process which will be ready for use by the end of 2013.
The fibres described in the atlas are species from south-east Asia, because the scientists’ experience has indicated that suspicious publishing products often contain fibres originating from that region.
In addition to the laboratory in Darmstadt, only two other laboratories – one in the USA and one in Great Britain – analyse paper and fibre products for evidence of the use of tropical hardwoods.
The tropical forest foundation OroVerde estimates that some 20 per cent of the forests cut down each year are used to produce paper. Of the paper consumed annually worldwide (391 million tons in 2007), 71 per cent is used in industrialised countries which are home to only 22 per cent of the world's population.