From Italy to China: The Journey of Calamity-Wood in the Italian Alps

Between 27 and 29 October 2018, the Vaia storm destroyed 41,491 hectares of woods in North Eastern Italy. Millions of felled trees that must now be harvested and used in some way. It is not easy: it is estimated that the gusts at 200 kilometers per hour have made available something like eight million cubic meters of timber, which is enough to suddenly saturate the market. The damage, according to an estimate by the University of Padua which also takes into account the loss of value for the productive sector and the environment, is 630 million euros.

Duferco Biomasse, a Piedmont company, has purchased a total of around 350,000 damaged trees in the area at prices which are around 65% lower than in normal market conditions. Trees need to be removed rapidly: a bark pest has already been spotted in dead trees and might attack surviving trees too. Duferco Biomasse has been selling roundwood to Chinese operators. In China this raw material will be transformed into furniture, pallets and other applications for packaging and construction. Branches, on the other hand, will serve as biomass for energy production.

The workers which remove trees from the forest work seated inside enormous machines equipped with mechanical arms and jaws that lift trees thirty meters long. "These machines are very useful: in just a few seconds they manage to" clean up "the spruce by removing the branches and cutting the trunk", explains forestry expert Luca Poli, who on behalf of Duferco also monitors the quality of the timber. To take full advantage of the summer months the harvesters also work at night illuminating the area with powerful headlights. The logs are then stacked by the cranes and finally loaded onto the trucks. The trucks travel 130 kilometers on asphalt until they reach a large storage area in Marghera. Now fumigation can begin: to avoid the risk that, together with the trees, China will find itself importing bark beetle too, the metal case must be hermetically sealed and sulfuryl difloride – a powerful antiparasitic – must be injected until it saturates the inside air.

Only after 24 hours the container is ventilated and then transferred to the port. Having reached the docks of Marghera, the logs are loaded on a cargo. The journey by sea lasts between 30 and 40 days and usually the logs are delivered to the port of Shanghai. From the moment they are removed from the forest, it takes almost two months to reach China.

Text adapted from an article published in Corriere del Veneto on 19 July 2019

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