The future looks bright on paper

Synergetic Business Solutions reports on future environmental trends, impacts, legislation and practices for the pulp and paper industry.

The name ‘paper’ is derived from the Latin ‘papyrus’ and was first used by the Egyptians over 5,000 years ago, in the form of beaten or pressed sheets of a grass-like plant. Today, the process is much more complex and there are 87 pulp, paper and board mills in the UK alone, employing over 17,400 people.

The paper mills are located throughout the UK with a concentration in Kent, Lancashire, the West Country and Scotland. The industry is capital intensive with typical costs of a new mill from initial design to completion and commissioning exceeding £200million. In order to make the return on such an investment, the mills need to function 24 hours a day, all year round. When economic growth slows the demand for paper and board also slows, yet to maintain profitability the mills need to operate continuously. The table on the right provides an overview of the paper industry in relation to demand and consumption.

Contrary to popular belief, paper manufacturers generally only use the parts of a tree that others have no use for. Timber is cut for the construction industry and then parts, such as tree tops and saw mill waste, are used in the paper making process. The paper industry and associated organisations have made a significant impact on encouraging the environmental management of sustainable forests.

High risk

Historically, the paper industry has always been considered by regulatory bodies to be high risk in terms of polluting the environment, with emissions to all three environmental media; land, water and air. This categorisation of ‘high risk’ to the environment is due to several reasons, including high-energy consumption, the quantities and types of raw materials used and a dependence on water supply.

One perception about the paper industry is that it consumes large volumes of water for its processes. In fact, only about 5 per cent of the water used is actually lost during the paper making process, through evaporation. The other 95 per cent of the water used is returned to the original source. The water is treated and, in most cases, the water being returned to the environment is of a higher quality than when first abstracted.

This reliance on water could soon bring further problems for the paper industry; there are a number of new schemes that will introduce changes to how the water is abstracted and discharged, as well as the costs involved.

Following the government’s review of the issuing of licenses for the abstraction of water, a new scheme, the Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy (CAMS), is being introduced by the Environment Agency.

The main aim of CAMS is to balance the needs of abstractors of water against those of the aquatic environment. It will make information on water resources licensing available to the public, provide a consistent approach to local resource management, and involve the public in managing the water resource. Each CAM is developed through a consultation process with local stakeholders, and results in a final strategy being implemented over a six-year period, before being reviewed.

The government has also requested the Environment Agency to review its scheme for water abstraction charges, and consultations are currently under way on proposals for revising the scheme. Proposals include the introduction of new charges relating to the maximum permitted abstraction, rather than actual water abstracted. This will add to the burden of the paper industry.

Energy efficiency is another major issue for the paper industry and accounts for up to 40 per cent of the costs involved in manufacturing. In fact the paper industry is reported to be the seventh largest consumer of energy.

The process of manufacturing paper and board requires the mixing of cellulose fibres in a large quantity of water, which is later removed by using both mechanical means and steam heated rollers. This method of drying by heat requires high-energy consumption. It involves boilers being used to generate the steam, or in some cases, ‘Combined Heat and Power’ (CHP), a system which also generates electricity.


CHP is a highly fuel-efficient technology and it is hoped that it will make a valuable contribution to the UK’s sustainable energy objectives. CHP is 30-50 per cent more efficient than systems that generate both electricity and steam separately; as such they contribute towards goals for climate change pertaining to the reduction of carbon emissions.

Despite its benefits, the operation of CHP is not without problems. Changes in the gas market following deregulation the UK and the high price of gas and low return on the production of electricity, have undermined making a CHP operation economically viable. These issues have led to the UK market for CHP being in a state of crisis, causing many paper mills to shelve plans to install CHP systems.

Yet another issue for the paper industry will be the increase in the Landfill Tax by larger annual increments. The Landfill Directive requires the UK to reduce the quantity of waste sent to landfill, and the division of paper from municipal waste could have a big impact on the ability to meet this target. This is of particular relevance to the paper industry, as it is reported that 32 per cent of municipal waste is paper, as the UK only recovers some 41 per cent of the paper it consumes.

The introduction of IPPC has been costly for the paper industry. The new PPC Regulations built upon and replaced Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) and Local Authority Pollution Control (LAPC) regimes. However, the new PPC regulations go much further and are much broader than the IPC regime. IPPC not only covers pollution and emissions to air, water and land, but also includes noise, vibration and heat; energy efficiency, waste production, condition of site when the installation closes, and environmental accidents.

The environmental issues impacting upon the paper industry are ever increasing. All in all, protecting the environment and meeting regulatory and legislative responsibilities is a costly and increasingly onerous task for paper manufacturers and the industry at large.

Regulators strongly support an environmental management system and recommend that the ISO 14001 standard be used as the basis for such a system. The development of an effective management system has assisted paper mills to maintain compliance with regulatory requirements, manage their significant impacts on the environment, identify financial savings and continuously improve their environmental performance.

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