If you are interested in the sustainability of your building materials then one key thing to consider with wooden products is how long it takes the wood to grow. This can be a particularly troublesome query to answer when it comes to plywood as plywood is not one defined type of wood. So the answer is, it depends. I know that is not a very satisfactory answer at all, so let me break it down more for you below.
Type of Plywood
Plywood is just a manufacturing process and nearly any wood can be turned into plywood. However in reality there are a few different kinds of wood that most common plywoods are made from. This should make the process of working out how long it takes to grow a little easier.
One of the most aesthetically pleasing plywoods and also one of the kindest to the environment. Birch plywood comes from birch commonly grown in northern Europe in sustainably managed forests. These forests replant every tree that is felled as they are set up to be a commercial forest.
Birch also has the advantage of quick growth. A birch tree can mature to full size in just 20 years, which is rapid compared to a lot of other species.
Many of the cheaper plywoods you find in the big DIY stores are made from tropical hardwoods. This wood is usually cheap but strong, making it perfect for plywood. Often Eucalyptus can be used for the core with tropical wood used for the exterior veneer. These are often red/brown in appearance.
The problem with tropical plywood is simply deforestation. Many of the countries where the wood is harvested are poorer countries with little or no managed forestry. Huge areas of forest have been cleared to create plywood that is now dols around the world.
So while Eucalyptus is one of the fastest-growing trees in the world, growing up to 2m a year! it doesn’t matter if the trees are never replanted.
Usually made from pine, or douglas fir softwood plywood is commonly used in construction. It obviously isn’t as strong as hardwood plywood and dents easily. For these reasons, it is not often seen in cabinet production where birch plywood will often be used.
A commercially grown pine can take 20-30 years to reach full height. Some pines are left to grow for much longer however as this creates a denser, stronger wood.