At Astigarraga Kit Line, every day is an opportunity to celebrate the commitment to sustainability and care for the environment. However, on a day like Recycling Day, we are proud of our work manufacturing wooden furniture, an activity that embraces the philosophy of comprehensively recycling and reusing our raw material, Insignis solid pine wood. The director of the forestry area of Astigarraga Kit Line, Jose Juan Astigarraga, explains the process of transforming wood from the tree to the final product and the comprehensive use made of this natural, renewable and sustainable material.

-First of all, could you explain what the first and second transformation of wood consists of?

-The first transformation of wood encompasses all the processes from the time the tree is felled in the forest until it is turned into boards in the sawmill. The second transformation of wood is the one that takes place in the workshops, where you obtain, from the wood of first transformation, the final product that you sell to the distributors or to the final consumer. Wood has a long journey to make before becoming a finished product such as furniture.

In this first processing of wood, what is the proportion that is used for furniture production compared to that which is recycled for other purposes?

-When a pine tree is felled to be used as raw material for the sawmill, 85% of the trunk is used. This percentage is usually suitable for cutting logs on the basis of diameters.

-What about the remaining 15%?

– Of this 15%, 13% are cuttings, for example, the tips of pine trees, very thick branches, pieces that are splitting off, a trunk that does not meet the standards for the manufacture of furniture… In the case of Astigarraga Kit Line, almost 100% of that 15% is taken away to paper mills and factories that make chipboard and MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard).

-Specifically, where these cuttings sent to?

-The cuttings are sent directly to the paper mill from the forest. The lorry gets loaded up with logs for the Gure Zura sawmill in Nuarbe, and when there is a lorry load of cuttings they are taken to the Zubialde paper mill in Aiarnazabal to make paper pulp, which is then used to make tissue paper. In addition to pulp, it is also used to make chipboard and MDF.

-Therefore, surplus wood, instead of being discarded, is recycled..

-The trunk is the product. And the by-product is something that comes off of that trunk. In both the first processing in the forest and the second processing in the factory, we never use the words ‘residues’ or ‘waste’ but by-products because, on the one hand, we would be devaluing our raw material, and on the other hand, by-products are not discarded but are used.

-You claim that almost 100% of that 15% ends up in paper mills. What do you mean by “almost”?

In the forest, almost everything is cleaned and used. All of the small bits, the maximum volume. 100% of the branches are not taken advantage of, although they could be, but the terrain of the Basque Country does not lend itself to this. Putting in machinery is not profitable at all and unfortunately a little biomass remains in the Basque mountains: branches, pine trees that are a little dry… In Galicia, Las Landas, the Scandinavian countries, the Baltic countries, and even Germany, where the terrain does allow it, you can put a shredder in and reuse that small remaining percentage, which may be around 2% of that 15%. 100% of foresters in the Basque Country get the most out of the cuttings, except for that small percentage where this has been tried but found unworkable, even though it is done 150 km away, but the terrain is different.

– Given this difficult terrain, what happens to the 2% that remains in the forest?

-For example, in Larruskain (Bizkaia), before replanting, we shred all the branches and small trees that remain in the forest. You leave the shredded material scattered around, it rots, becomes compost for the soil and then the trees are planted.

Another formula, which we have carried out in Azkoitia because it was very clean, was to make rows where the branches remain, and the trees have been planted between the rows as protection for the roe deer in the area. These are two ways of reusing what little is left in the forest. Therefore, it can be said that in the wood’s first transformation, it is almost 100% used: 85% is raw material, 13% is cuttings and 2% remains in the forest, but which is also reused.

How is the classification of cuttings carried out?

-The crews are responsible for this work. Normally we speak in terms of diameters. A good cutting/smaller branch is usually from 8 to 16 cm in diameter. From 8 cm downwards it remains in the forest, and from 16 cm upwards it is considered valid as raw material for furniture production. And from 18 to 25 cm, for the world of packaging and pallets.

-At the beginning, you mentioned what gets to the sawmill from the forest. What is used in the manufacture of furniture and what is recycled for other purposes?

-In the sawmill, a high percentage gets to the manufacturing workshops, and the rest of the log is sawdust, bark and wood chips. I insist, it is not waste, it is a powerful by-product. People call it waste. Astigarraga Kit Line classifies it as a by-product.

– How is bark, sawdust and wood chips obtained?

In the sawmill, the log goes through the bark stripper and comes out clean of bark. With the ‘corners’ of the trunk, which we call flitches, once you remove the four of them, what we make is wet wood chips. The trunk is then cleaned of bark and is ready to be cut into planks. The saw cut which turns logs into boards produces sawdust.

Wet wood chips

-And where do these new by-products end up?

-We send the sawdust to the chipboard and MDF factories in Pantyr Seripanneaux, which is in Saint Vincent de Tyrosse, near Bayonne. We have two destinations for the bark: for biomass for the Zubialde paper mill in Aizarnazabal, where the bark is burnt to obtain thermal energy for their production processes; and to France for gardening. The bark is usually picked up, knocked together and with this rubbing it becomes thin and rounded, thus obtaining bark for garden decoration. And finally, this output of  wood chips, which is of very good quality thanks to our installations, is sold to the Gascogne paper mill in Mimizan (Landes), where the wood chips successfully go through exhaustive controls.

-In the sawmill, 100% of the incoming timber is used…

-Not a single gram of pine is wasted. Nothing gets away.

Optimising energy efficiency in factories

-All that remains to be seen is what happens to the 53% of the wood that enters the sawmill.

-After the natural drying or air-drying process of the wood, it enters the factory, where the wood’s second transformation takes place.  In order for the boards to become a finished product, 42% dry wood chips and shavings are generated. We use the shavings for the biomass boilers to produce thermal energy, which is used to dry the wood and for heating in our two factories, the one in Larrañaga, where we manufacture shelving, and the one in Olalde, where trestles are made. And 100% of the dry wood chips go to Arkaizpegurrak in Bidania and to Servary, in Angresse, for the manufacture of pellets. Pellets are made by pressing sawdust together where the lignin acts as a binder.

“Recycling is essential but so is not over generating”

-What challenges does Astigarraga Kit Line face in the recycling process?

-With regard to timber, we are always focusing on making better use of the timber that remains in the forest. This is always the case. Our commitment to recycling is reflected at every stage of our manufacturing process. From the extraction of the wood to the packaging of our products. We always seek to optimise resources. Apart from wood, other raw materials we use for packaging, such as cardboard and plastic, should be mentioned.

We have been working with Plastigaur, a flexible and sustainable plastic packaging company, all our lives. In terms of research into the recycling of recycled raw materials, they are at the forefront in Europe. Right now, 70% of the plastic we use is recycled. We tend to insist on raising this percentage and be able to reach 100%. But more research is needed. Not long ago we were at 20% and now we are at 70%. On the other hand, 100% of the cardboard is recycled.

Is it OK to recycle? Yes, we need to recycle, but what we also need to do is not to over generate. Our tendency is to not produce.

-What do you see as the environmental benefits of the company’s recycling approach?

-Our commitment to recycling enables us to significantly reduce the amount of waste we generate as a company. In the case of wood, by reusing 100% instead of discarding it, there is no waste and efficiency in the use of a natural and renewable resource such as wood is maximised. Furthermore, by converting by-products into biomass, dependence on fossil fuels such as diesel is reduced, thus contributing to the reduction of pollutant emissions and the reduction of the carbon footprint.

On the other hand, by giving value to everything a tree has to offer, the company contributes to the reduction of environmental pollution. In the end, you are producing a product that, after ten years, you will be able to recycle or take to a centre in Garbigune, where it can be shredded and turned into wood chips. We believe in the importance of prolonging the life of our products. That’s why we design our furniture with durability and functionality in mind, ensuring that it can adapt to different spaces over time, with the idea of encouraging a culture of responsible consumption.

Reforestation, which we always encourage, also plays an important role in the conservation about our forests and in the capture of carbon.

-Are there future improvements in the area of wood recycling?

-I would say that collecting the 2% that remains in the forest is not viable here in the Basque Country. And, as I always say, don’t stop planting anything, it doesn’t have to be pine.

-Has the company received any recognition or certification for its recycling and sustainability efforts?

– We have recently obtained carbon footprint certification from Tecnalia Certification, in our case, for the wood sector’s first and second transformation. In our commitment to environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility, this distinction represents an achievement for our company as it allows us to understand the impact that our activity generates on the environment. In addition to the PEFC certificate, which guarantees that we use local wood from sustainable sources, we also have the European Union’s Ecolabel, which is a distinction for companies that generate less waste and pollution in the production process and it promotes the use of recycled materials to make products that are more durable and easier to recycle.

Join us in our celebration of Recycling Day and be part of the shift towards a cleaner, greener and more sustainable world. At Astigarraga Kit Line, we understand that our responsibility goes beyond the manufacture of furniture; it also involves minimising our impact on our environment. That is why we are committed to recycling and sustainability today, tomorrow and forever. Happy Recycling Day!