Water use and treatment
Producing pulp, paper and board requires the use of water at various stages of the industrial process. Indeed, water is the medium for fibres throughout the manufacturing cycle and it helps spread them evenly when making sheets of paper.
Most of the water used in the papermaking process is recycled. After use and treatment, more than 90% of the water taken is returned to the environment in accordance with discharge stipulations set by regulations and accompanied by numerous checks.
Although the paper industry has reduced its water use and water-borne discharges by more than 80% since the early 1980’s, improving water management in the papermaking process remains a major challenge for the industry.
Papermaking is one of the most energy-intensive industries. Two types of energy are used to make pulp, paper and board. These are electricity which is the source of power for machines. Pulp production from wood or recycled paper requires also a large amount of heat and mechanical energy to separate the cellulose fibres. Making a sheet of paper and, particularly, drying it requires a significant amount of heat.
Most of the energy consumed comes from biomass. Indeed, pulp production from wood or recycled paper or board generates various by-products that can be re-used to produce energy. This is an economic benefit as the industry produces a large part of the energy it consumes. But, it is also an environmental bonus too as the CO2 emitted from biomass combustion is re-absorbed by growing biomass. Today, the European paper industry represents 17% of European renewable energy and 28% of biomass-generated renewable energy in Europe.
Energy costs account for 15-30% of paper industry production costs. This is why it is constantly innovating and investing in ever more efficient tools to improve its energy efficiency. Nevertheless, given the international competition, the availability of energy at competitive prices is vital to sustain development in the sector.
Tackling climate change and greenhouse gases
Tackling climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions have been key priorities for the paper industry for several years now. The strong growth of biomass energy production has, in particular, enabled the paper industry to reduce its CO2 emissions by 35% between 2005 and 2012.
Atmospheric emissions from paper mills are principally linked to on-site combustion plants. The mainstream substitution of oil and coal fuels by natural gas as well as the introduction of atmospheric emission purification systems have helped limit pollutant emissions.
Waste use and management
Pulp, paper and board manufacturing by-products essentially comprise paper and board rejects, recycling waste and sludge from wastewater treatment plants.
Paper and board rejects are reintroduced in on-site industrial processes.
Recycling waste and sludge are re-used for either energy or by other industries (use of sewage sludge in agriculture) to restrict as much as possible the proportion of waste sent to landfill sites.