Analysing water use in the paper industry

Assessing the facts and collating the figures surrounding water and wastewater use in the paper, packaging and pulp sector

The IWEX report was commissioned by the organisers of this year's exhibition to assess the commercial impact of water and wastewater management issues on differing business sectors. Note all statistics referred to in this article are based on respondents to the report and not the sector as a whole.

The report found water use in the paper, packaging and pulp sector is more stable than in others, 59% of respondents said consumption had stayed the same over the last three years, compared to 35% in chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The future looks equally stable, 76% of companies predict no change in water consumption over the next year. Wastewater figures mirror the trend, 71% of companies said spending on wastewater remained static during the last three years.

In contrast, in brewing and food manufacture, only 38% said the amount spent on wastewater had stayed the same. Over the next year, 12% of paper, pulp and packaging companies predict an increase in spend in this area. Though the report showed relatively stable levels of water use, the sector is coming under increasing pressure to reduce consumption. Water reduction was cited as a key priority, behind reducing wastewater disposal costs and reusing more water in the manufacturing process.

Reuse has a higher priority than in any other sector in the report. The growth in consumption of packaged goods places an increasing pressure on the packaging sector to play its part in sustainable development. Under UK regulations any company with a turnover of more than £2M, which produces or uses more than 50t/pa of packaging, must be registered as an obligated packaging company and meet targets for recovery and recycling of its packaging.

Two thirds (66%) of companies in the sector plan to invest in upgrading water-related equipment - notably for recycling, wastewater treatment and environmental monitoring - in next five years. This is higher than any other sector. Investment priorities will focus on lowering production costs, reducing the formation of scale and deposits, reducing metallic corrosion, improving microbial control and reducing water used in plant cleaning.

Less than half (47%) of companies surveyed said they knew companies or consultants who could help them with these investment plans. This is a common theme in the IWEX report, which showed suppliers are missing out on opportunities across the board. Three quarters of paper, packaging and pulp companies said they felt suppliers and consultants were not focusing enough or at all on their needs and nearly a third felt the needs of their industry were not actually understood. Of those who have worked with suppliers and consultants, none rated them as 'excellent' (the only sector to feel this), and less than half rated them as 'good'. Nearly a quarter of these companies do not have a water strategy, 24%, compared to 12% in chemicals and pharmaceuticals and 14% in brewing and food manufacture.

Of those companies without a water strategy, only 12% had sought advice in developing one. Of those who had sought advice, only 18% had approached their water company. The perception of water companies by this sector was generally worse than in others, with just 29% describing their water company as 'good' and 53% who cited their utility as 'average'.

Those who exerted most influence on the sector's water strategy were environmental groups because manufacturing processes are water and energy-intensive, with significant environmental impact. These issues are now high on the business agenda. According to Envirowise, in the paper, packaging and pulp sector, demonstrating sound environmental policies to potential customers often made the difference between winning and losing a contract.

Despite being heavily influenced by environmental groups, the IWEX report found quite a large proportion of these companies (41%) felt legislation has no impact on them. Less than half (47%) claimed to be up to speed with the latest legislation affecting their company's use of water and or wastewater.

This sector, though not growing, is starting to take ever-increasing steps to improve efficiency by better use of technologies and management practice. It cannot do this on its own and relationships with suppliers, consultants and the water companies have a long way to go if the opportunities presented by this sector are to be fully exploited.

The IWEX report was commissioned by the organisers of IWEX 2005, which takes place in the NEC Birmingham from 18-20 October, and can be downloaded from www.iwex.co.uk

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