Water is in high demand, it’s a vital resource – it is so valuable that NASA have even developed technology to recycle the moisture from astronaut’s breath!(1) Each year the European paper industry uses around 3,397,000,000 m3 of water.(2) For scale, that’s about the same amount of water as it would take to fill 1.4 million Olympic sized swimming pools… This editorial aims to give you a brief overview of why the paper industry has innovated its use of water and how it is moving towards closed loop water recycling.(3)
Problems and Concerns
Water is used for screening, cleaning and cooling machines. It’s an inescapable resource for paper production. Whether using virgin fibres or recycled paper, water plays a key part in producing the product we all know and love. Without clean water, the end product would not possess the properties we have come to expect – it would be grey, grainy and constantly jam in the printer. With the global population growing, competition for resources increasing and uncertainty about the effect of climate change, the pressure on the paper industry to adopt sustainable practise has considerably increased. However, a significant practical challenge is that paper production wastewater contains lignin, alcohols and chelating agents – as unpleasant as they sound, these elements can actually change the ecological characteristics of water. As knowledge and understanding of the effect of these chemicals grew it became clear that the paper industry could not turn a blind eye. It is (quite rightly) no longer acceptable that manufacturing causes damage and harm.
The development of sustainable practises in the paper industry have been motivated not only by the importance of consistently producing quality products, but by the need to protect the reputation of paper itself. Many people are quick to assume paper production is all about deforestation, excessive waste and untenable practices. With the importance of corporate environmental responsibility exponentially growing over the last few years (something I am all too aware of when writing tenders!) the paper industry has had to be proactive. To keep up with this sea change, the paper industry has focused its efforts on implementing continuing sustainability. Through diversifying the ingredients of paper, to include quick growing trees such as eucalyptus and investing in raw water treatment machinery, as an industry we’re a small but significant player in the push for long-lasting change.
The Benefits and Perks
There are many benefits to recycling water, but I would like to highlight three in particular. Firstly, using recycled water reduces the energy consumption of the paper mill. Not only does it eliminate the need to transport water to the mill, which is energy intensive, but it also opens up the possibility of exploiting potential energy through hydropower during the water treatment process.(4) Secondly, by using recycled water the mill reduces the manufacturing cost of the paper, therefore reducing the price for the end user. Win Win! Finally, one quite unexpected outcome of water recycling in the paper industry has been the creation of new markets, new products and new jobs through industrial symbiosis and bio refinery.(5)
Conclusions and Moving Forward
As older mills upgrade their existing plant technology, recycling water processes are becoming streamlined and integral to the production of paper, and not simply an added extra. Through supplying and buying sustainable paper from reliable mills and merchants, we can all rest assured that we’re doing our bit to protect the environment through reinforcing and rewarding sustainable practise.
Please feel free to give Springfield Business Papers a call to discuss any of the points raised in this editorial or how you can improve your own sustainability credentials.