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Forest Products: An Essential Industry, Today and Every Day

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forest products

Toilet paper may be at the top of everyone’s shopping list these days, but it’s not the only essential pulp and paper product. The forest products industry manufactures a wide range of critical goods that are used in virtually every industry and household every single day.

In an effort to keep forest products manufacturers operational during the current global crisis, American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) President and CEO Heidi Brock issued a statement on March 18 encouraging federal, state and local governments to recognize paper and wood products manufacturing facilities as essential when drafting shelter-in-place orders.

AF&PA members make essential products, including tissue products, packaging for food and other consumer products, building products and shipping containers. Our members also supply packaging to agricultural producers, food processors, hygiene product manufacturers, grocers and other retailers. Disruptions in the availability of these goods would cause significant hardships to consumers across the country who depend on steady and stable supplies.
To provide greater certainty and clarity for our industry’s businesses and employees, we ask for clear exclusion of our manufacturing operations from ‘shelter in place’ orders as the paper and wood products industry plays an essential role in avoiding unnecessary disruptions of goods and services.

We spoke with Elizabeth Bartheld, AF&PA’s vice president of government and industry affairs, about the statement and its impact thus far.

“In addition to our statement, AF&PA sent a letter to Vice President Pence and all 50 governors urging them to clearly designate pulp and paper mills, converting plants and businesses involved in the distribution and sale of our essential products as ‘essential businesses’ and exclude them from the restrictions of any such shelter-in-place or stay-at-home measures,” Bartheld says.

She says the letter also asked for state governments to ensure access to critical supplies and raw materials so forest products manufacturers can continue to produce and deliver essential goods.

“As a result of our work and that of other partner organizations, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency of the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance to local and state authorities recognizing, among others, ‘workers who support sawmills and the manufacture and distribution of fiber and forest products, including but not limited to timber, paper and other wood and fiber products, as exempt from shelter-in-place orders,’” Bartheld says. “We also continue to work on a state-by-state basis to ensure our essential industry can operate.”

Our Forest Products Are Essential

Tom Howard, Domtar’s vice president for government relations, is helping our company understand and meet government expectations that the forest products we make remain available to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have been deemed essential by many jurisdictions based on the products we manufacture and their end use,” he says. “Our specialty products have many medical applications, including use in hospital gowns, testing kits, labels and much more. On a larger level, our paper production is used for medical records, prescription pads, instructions that a doctor will send home with a patient, pharmaceutical inserts and many other medical uses.”

In addition, Howard says, “fluff pulp is a key component in infant diapers and adult incontinence products. Fluff also is used in hospital pads and other absorbent products. All of these are needed to stop the spread of disease. Market pulp is used to manufacture towel and tissue products.”

Domtar also manufactures specialty paper products that are integral to the food industry, including the serving, processing and packaging of a variety of food items.

These and other wood fiber–based products are critical to the health, safety and comfort of people all around the world, not only during a crisis but every day.

Our People Are Our Greatest Asset

As important as our products are, the health and safety of our Domtar colleagues remain our top priority. We are taking steps to ensure that our employees and their families stay safe and healthy, including:

  • Limiting and screening visitors at all of our sites.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing work sites, including equipment and break-rooms, and maintaining necessary supplies for safety and health.
  • Following CDC guidelines to have employees stay home if they or their family members exhibit coronavirus‐related symptoms.
  • Modifying work practices to maintain social distancing, including modified shift turnover practices, revised daily meeting formats and “non‐contact” receiving and shipping methods. Keeping some workers at home rather than having them onsite helps with social distancing and reduces the overall number of people in an area at the same time.
  • Monitoring and complying with all federal and state governmental guidance and directives.

The Forests Products Industry Is United

According to AF&PA, the U.S. forest products industry employs approximately 950,000 men and women and is among the top-10 manufacturing sector employers in 45 states. AF&PA member companies, including Domtar, make products essential for everyday life from renewable and recyclable resources.

“Rest assured that the AF&PA team is working tirelessly to advance a safe and healthy workforce and ensure critical supply chains can continue,” Bartheld says. “We remain committed to protecting the industry’s license to operate. The industry remains committed to safely and efficiently meeting the needs of its customers and the public in this dynamic environment.”

In addition, forest products companies are essential to the economies of the cities and regions in which they operate.

“By continuing to operate, we are supporting the overall supply chain that provides needed products to our community, consumers and caregivers and a stable source of income for our employees, which in turn helps local economies,” says Howard.

Domtar customers can visit our website to stay up to date on our COVID-19 response.