Lauan is a generic term that is typically used for tropical plywood sold in the U.S. The name was originally from the Philippines, the first country of origin for U.S. tropical plywood imports in the 1940s and ’50s. A new production process allowed for the use of 80% of the trees in the Philippines, thus driving massive logging. Philippines has now lost 85% of its original forests, 80% of that due to demand for plywood exports. Philippines is now a net wood importer. Illegal logging there still drives loggers into violent conflict with native people and landowners. Death threats are common.

In the 1970s demand shifted to Thailand (now 85% deforested) and then in the ’80s to Malaysia. By 1985, Japanese and Malaysian logging companies were eliminating the forest homelands of dozens of native cultures and wiping out hundreds of endangered species. Native people, notably the Penan, began blockading logging roads into their customary lands, which were theirs to use according to Malaysia’s constitution. The government brought in the police and army, using beatings and incarceration to break up the blockades and keep the wood flowing. Mitsubishi was the major company doing the logging and exporting the plywood. Malaysian Borneo is now 65% deforested.

With the leveling off of Malaysian exports, production shifted once again, this time to Indonesia. Indonesia now produces 90% of the world’s tropical plywood exports. Indonesia’s rainforests are expected to last only until 2010 at the current rate of logging.

Overlogging in Malaysia and Indonesia has led to massive forest fires both in 1983 and again in 1997/98. The latest fires devastated wildlife populations as well as blanketed Malaysia and Singapore in smoke for months.

It has been estimated (and confirmed by the Indonesian government, UN and World Bank) that 75% of logging in Indonesia is being done illegally. Intrusions into park and preserves are so common that there is now permanent infrastructure in the parks for moving logs. Threats, intimidation and bribes keep the logging going. Now, 95% of government-granted concessions have been shown to be operating illegally.

With the loss of these irreplaceable rainforests, Indonesia is losing native orangutans, hornbills and other critically endangered wildlife.

Some "lauan" is now being imported from Brazil. Illegal logging in Brazil is estimated at 80% of exports.
Brazil is heavily increasing tropical plywood production.

The United States is the second largest importer of tropical plywood (after Japan). Lauan is used for paneling, sub-flooring, cabinet and furniture backing and drawers, custom shelving and cabinetry, trailer paneling, interior doors, and theatrical and movie set construction. These sets are usually used for one show and then discarded.

For alternatives to lauan, click below or to the right.