Native to Australia and Indonesia, eucalyptus is today one of the main sources of raw material for papermaking. It belongs to the Eucalyptus genus, which comprises over 600 different species. In Brazil, thanks to the excellent climate and soil conditions for its development, the eucalyptus grows faster than in other countries and with higher productivity rates.
The utilization of eucalyptus in the papermaking industry dates back from the early 20th century, although mass production did not start before approximately 1957. The species produces hardwood pulp, which is used in manufacturing napkins, toilet paper, printing and writing papers, among others.
Today, planted eucalyptus forests cover nearly 4.5 million hectares of the Brazilian territory, according to the Brazilian Association of Planted Forests Producers (ABRAF). Of this total area, over 1.8 million hectares are grown by the pulp and paper industry, what represents 81,6% of planted forests of the sector.
Eucalyptus has multiple applications. In addition to producing pulp, it is also the source of energy-generating charcoal and solid wood for furniture, flooring, paneling and other construction uses.
Since it meets human needs, the planting of eucalyptus trees – as well as pinus trees, which is also used for papermaking in Brazil –, helps conserve native forests and balance the climate. And, what is more important in terms of global warming: because of its fast growth it absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere at significant rates.
In Brazil, it takes approximately seven years before eucalyptus can be harvested, requiring few human actions on the soil. It can be grown on soils with low natural fertility, although it does not tolerate shallow soils or excess water. Moreover, eucalyptus does not require many nutrients or agrochemicals when compared with other cultures.
In managed areas, the species has no impacts on groundwater, since its roots stay away from aquifers. In eucalyptus planted forests, rainwater reaches the soil more intensely than in tropical forests, which are denser and retain more water in tree crowns, increasing the loss of water through evaporation before it reaches the soil.
Productivity - Decades of investment in research and genetic improvement lead to an increase in planted forest productivity which, each time, produces more and more wood in the same cultivated area.
Eucalyptus introduction in Brazil – The first eucalyptuses arrived in Brazil as ornamental plants in 1825, at the Botanic Gardens of Rio de Janeiro. In 1868, the species started to be planted for firewood and form wind barriers, initially in the State of Rio Grande do Sul. The expansion of eucalyptus gained momentum in the early 20th century, thanks to the work of the first Brazilian to become interested in its study and culture, forestry scientist Edmundo Navarro de Andrade.
In the former Companhia Paulista de Estradas de Ferro (the São Paulo Railway Company), he established tree plantations to fuel locomotive boilers and produce crossties, posts and poles. At that time, the eucalyptus species currently planted in Brazil were introduced in to Forest Garden of the city of Rio Claro, state of São Paulo.
The forest planting of eucalyptus is an important business in Brazil today. It is a source of wealth and social development and, at the same time, of environmental conservation.