Where does your timber flooring come from?

hardwood american white oak engineered timber flooring

There are excellent alternatives to hardwood flooring from rainforests, such as this American white oak engineered timber flooring

New Zealand imports a number of timber flooring species into the country. Many of these have not been logged sustainably or legally and many have been imported from as far away as South America.

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Vitex Timber Flooring

If you would like to buy hardwood flooring for your home, the materials will come from different species. Some of these will be native to New Zealand, however much of it will be imported from the tropical rainforests of the Solomon Islands, South America, and Papua New Guinea. For example, Vitex and Tonka are two very popular types of wood that can be purchased from various outlets. Vitex can grow up to 35 metres tall and have white bark. It grows in various rainforests, including in the Solomon Islands, where forests are being felled at 5 times the rate that is sustainable. According to the Australia and New Zealand Institutes of Forestry, 2010 log exports from the Solomon Islands to Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and China were 13,000 m3 on top of 1.7 million m3 shipped to Asia.  The sustainable rate for forest regeneration is 300,000 m3 per year. If the Solomon Islands lose their forests, which could happen in the next few years, the economic consequences would be equal to Australia losing their mining revenues. The Solomon Islands government does not enforce any sustainable logging guidelines and are often paid off by loggers.

Tonka Timber Flooring

Tonka is native to Central and South America. It grows up to 30 metres and the bark is smooth and gray. It has become popular for wood flooring because of the colour variances within it and it is very durable. However, it grows in low densities and its lifespan is only 60 years. Thus, to remove them is not a wise choice. In addition, tonka is often used by rainforest tribes for medicinal purposes. The bark can be made into a concoction to break fevers and the seeds are fermented in rum to treat cuts, coughs, snakebites, contusions and rheumatism. Finally, the seed oil is used to treat ear problems. In the 1980s, harvesting tonka gained in popularity after chainsaw technology improved, since the timber is so strong. It is now threatened because of over-harvesting.

Timber Imports from Papua New Guinea

New Zealand also imports timber from Papua New Guinea (PNG), which has one of the largest intact tropical rainforests in the world. 60% of the country is covered by forests. In addition, PNG supports a large number of cultures that speak 12% of the world’s existing languages. Over 1000 new species have been discovered in that country’s forests and scientists report that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Much of this may be destroyed due to illegal logging, which encompasses 70% of the logging in PNG. The government has even endorsed some of this logging through Special Agriculture and Business Leases that convert forests often inhabited by marginalized groups to farms; more than 10,000 families in rural parts of PNG are dependent on timber as part of their livelihoods. Many of the leases are also obtained fraudulently and “approved” by children or by the deceased. When people do complain, police are paid by logging companies to intimidate whisteblowers.

Domestic Species for Timber Flooring

Given the need to conserve tropical rainforests worldwide, it is very important that New Zealand consumers have a choice about where their products come from. There are many products available on the market that are grown domestically. Eucalyptus and cypress are two examples of that, however they are often made into firewood or into wood chips. These species can also be made into flooring. Eucalyptus is naturally resistant to the elements and does not require chemical treatment, which makes it a perfect material for decking. If you are not sure whether the product you are buying is grown sustainably, ask. There are many options out there to help avoid tropical rainforest destruction.

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