The uses and applications of paper and paper products are virtually limitless. In addition to the societal needs of paper for recording and disseminating of information, and for packaging materials, the United States pulp and paper industry employs more than 200,000 people, produces nine million tons of pulp, and 26 billion newspapers, books and magazines annually. Though U. S. mills represent only 15% of paper mills worldwide, they produce 36% of the world’s paper (Smook, 1992).
Exports of pulp and paper products are increasingly important to the economic health of the industry. In 1992, exports amounted to $10. 1 billion” (EPA/310-R-95-015, 1995). The traditional wood pulp method of producing paper requires the cutting of vast numbers of trees, high water and fossil fuel usage, and the release of a number of toxic chemicals into the air and water. In response to government environmental regulations, increased paper product demand, and the need to remain competitive in existing markets, new technologies and methodologies are being adopted (Smook, 1992).
The objective of this paper is to discuss the impact that current methods of paper production have on the environment, and the advances in developing new technologies and alternative products that are being used to mitigate impacts. Environmental Impact of Timber Procurement An important issue in the analysis of the industry is deforestation. Forests help maintain conditions such as global climate, and store carbon released into the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning.
Without benefit of the forest, these carbons will go into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (Bryant etal, 1997). Forty years ago, the paper industry began to acknowledge the environmental impact of deforestation (Montavalli, 1998). People in the industry acknowledged at that time that deforestation had many economic and environmental effects. These included global warming, the loss of wildlife, the reduction in water quality, and the decrease of natural fish species in these water sources (Rosmarin, 1997).
Clear-cutting has been a popular method used by the logging industry over the years for mass collection of timber needed for paper production. The logging industry once believed that the benefits of clear-cutting to wildlife were through the creation of abundant browse (grass) which is then consumed by rabbits, deer and moose. However, clear-cutting removes dead, fallen trees, a major source of energy for a wide variety of species, and thereby disturbing the overall balance and vitality of entire ecosystems (Lansky, 1992).
Clear-cutting also exposes soil, making it susceptible to washout and a potential contaminant of surface water. Trees at the edge of the cut are subsequently vulnerable to being blown down and scalded by the sun (Zuckerman, 1991). Likewise, the forest that grows back will be much more simplified and is often dominated by a single type of tree and disturbance-adapted vegetation, again impacting diversity (Lansky, 1992). It is important to remember that: “A “managed” forest grown and regrown on clear-cut land is not a natural forest.
For as long as it is managed it will never be given time to regenerate its original biodiversity” (Gallant, 1991). In an effort to alleviate the environmental consequences of clear-cutting, the paper production industry is making an effort to replenish the hardwood supply they remove. A current example of this effort is through the process of selection. Recent studies have acknowledged that the advantages to this are in the continued productivity of the forest. An even-aged stand is more efficient to space, light and nutrients than an area consisting of one or two species.
Trees that are not diverse compete with each other because they have the same needs. However, in selection, trees of all ages fill spaces in the understory where it would otherwise be empty after clear-cutting. In selection, trees are continually growing and maturing and there is no lag between harvest and regeneration because young trees continue to grow in the understory. Over the course of many cutting rotations, this should create greater productivity of our forests (Lansky, 1992).
Foresters have begun efforts to replant seedlings to replace what is being depleted from our environment. With each tree that is destroyed to produce paper, another seedling must be planted in order to maintain the environmental balance in that particular area (Bonner and Triton, 1997). In a recent study of forest replanting, the industry noted that recently harvested areas have been regenerated by 100%. Plantations are forests of tree crops developed by the industry under greenhouse conditions for the purpose of paper production (Lansky, 1992).
The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) supports the trend towards more plantations, as long as they are properly managed. “We find that plantations are an efficient way to produce wood fibre and they are essential to meet future demand for paper…In the short term, plantations can contribute to local and national economies and take pressure off natural forests. ” Approximately 30% of paper comes from plantations, with another 40 percent derived from managed natural regeneration forests (Figure 1) (Knight, 1996).
International Paper Company itself employs more than 400 foresters who “strive to balance the public’s need for forest-based products with stewardship of the trees, streams, wetlands, soils, plants, and animals that compose the forest environment on our lands. ” They note that, “the fact that we have owned some forests for nearly 100 years and they remain healthy and productive is a testament to the care generations of foresters have given the land” (Brown etal, 1998). However, spawned by the influence of media we only see the negative effects, not the positive efforts.
With social emphasis on recycling or planting trees, an environmental scientist notes that, “it is difficult to see that tree saving efforts are taking place each day” (Bonner and Triton, 1997). Another avenue that can improve the deforestation situation, is the current development of alternate pulping products. Paper companies are spending significant resources to experiment with new viable resources to decrease deforestation. Currently, “recycling is revolutionizing the paper industry” (Young and Rufus, 1997).
The American Forest and Paper Association (AFPA) estimates that the United States recycled 40. 5 percent of the paper it used in 1997, and has set a goal of recycling or reusing half of all U. S. paper production by the year 2000” (Young and Rufus, 1997). Recovered paper consumption is growing more than twice as fast as total fiber consumption, and mills are scrambling for used paper and supplies” (Smith, 1994). Various plants are spending millions of dollars to convert their processing from wood fiber into this new recycled paper pulp.
A plant operations manager in Ohio states “Recycling has caught on like a wildfire, I am excited the society is as concerned about their natural trees and resources, it is our obligation as merchandisers of paper to accommodate your (public) awareness and participation. ” (Davidson, 1998). Other papermaking products are being investigated each day. Kenaf is a plant that grows rapidly, reaching maturity in just 5 months. “By contrast southern plantation pines take 20 – 25 years to reach harvest stage” (Mardon, 1997).
Kenaf is naturally resistant to most pests and diseases. “Kenaf also crowds out weeds, limiting the need for herbicide applications” (Mardon, 1997). What’s more is that the kenaf paper making process involves less chemicals. Because kenaf is whiter than wood, and has a lower lignin content, it requires fewer chemicals and less energy to pulp and make white. Kenaf paper is environmentally positive: pollutant free, chlorine free and acid free (Petay, 1997). Another alternative product under investigation by the paper industry is the Hemp plant.
Hemp typically produces around 3 – 8 tons of dry fiber per acre annually, more than twice that of a southern pine” (Petay, 1997). Hemp is made up of two different types of fibers long and short, which correlate to, and can replace softwoods and hardwoods respectively. Hemp offers a variety of environmental advantages. Hemp grows rapidly and germinates in early spring. As with kenaf, it out competes most weed species, reducing, and more often eliminating the need for herbicides, and pesticides (Petay, 1997). Additionally, hemp’s lignin content is much lower than timber.
Lower lignin translates into fewer chemicals and less energy required during the pulping process” (Mardon, 1997). Each of the above alternative products will require more technology and experimentation in order to make them a truly viable paper making resource. “The greatest barrier to hemp paper production in the United States today is the ban on cultivation” (Petay, 1997). What stands in the way of kenaf paper production is resistance to change due to the technological expense in converting timber based manufacturing processes. Despite the challenges, several companies are using kenaf.
Such ground breaking efforts are but the beginning of a movement to spare our forest and clean up the pollution caused by the wood based paper industry” (Smith, 1994). “Kenaf and other non wood fiber alternatives offer viable, innovative opportunities for shifting from an outdated, destructive mode of production to one that’s appropriate for the 21st century (Mardon, 1997). The National Audubon Society and International Paper Company are collaborating with various academia, government and environmental groups on a three-year study of the effects of the paper industry on wildlife.
The study will help researchers identify the habitat requirements of birds, reptiles, and amphibians in 30,000 acres of industrial forests managed by International Paper Company in South Carolina. As part of the study, the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and Clemson University are focusing on how the forest-management practices affect the habitat and diversity of amphibians and reptiles. Other participants include the National Council of the Paper Industry for Air and Stream Improvement, the U. S. Forest Service Center for Forested Wetlands, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
“The U. S. Forest Service is developing a global-information-system-based tool that combines research from this and other studies into one database to assist forest managers around the country” (National Audubon Society, 1997). Pulping is the process of converting timber into a substance that can be used for paper manufacturing. “The production of pulp is the major source of environmental impacts in the pulp and paper industry” (EPA/310-R-95-015, 1995).
The basic steps in the pulping process and the byproducts produced are discussed below: Lumber is debarked and chipped. This wet form of debarking is water intensive, dry debarking uses larger amounts of energy. The residual solid waste must be disposed of, and the water used decontaminated (Smook, 1992). Wood fibers, called cellulose, are separated from the lignin (the glue like substances that keeps the tree together), to break down the wood. Chemical pulping, which is used in 84% of U. S. production plants, combines chemicals and heat to break down the lignin.
This process emits a number of hazardous air pollutants including: particulate, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides (Smook, 1992), formaldehyde, methanol, acetaldehyde, and methyl ethyl ketone (EPA-821-F-97-011, 1997). Mechanical pulping uses physical force to grind down and separate the fiber. It is used in approximately 10% of wood pulp production, and requires a high amount of energy (Smook, 1992). Pulp bleaching is performed in approximately 50% of pulp produced in the U. S. “Bleached pulps create papers that are whiter, brighter, softer and more absorbent”.
The most common chemicals used in the bleaching process are sodium hydroxide, elemental chlorine, and chlorine dioxide” (EPA/310-R-95-015, 1995). This process introduces chloroform, dioxins and furans into the wastewater (EPA-821-F-97-011, 1997). “The pulp and paper industry is the largest industrial process water user in the U. S. In 1988, a typical pulp and paper mill used 16,000 to 17,000 gallons per ton of paper produced” (EPA/310-R-95-015, 1995). Governmental Regulation on the Pulp and Paper Industry
Since establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, the pulp and paper industry has been subject to Federal water and air pollution guidelines (Smook, 1992). Failure to comply results in significant fines, however in some instances, fines have been reduced in exchange for implementing pollution reduction processes (EPA/310-R-95-015, 1995). “Pulp and paper mills have made significant investments in pollution control technologies and processes. According to industry sources, the pulp and paper industry spent more than $1 billion per year from 1991 – 1994 on environmental capital expenditures” (EPA/310-R-95-015, 1995).
The EPA is in the process of implementing a new “cluster rule”. The goal is to “cut toxic air pollutant emissions by almost 60 percent from current levels, and virtually eliminate all dioxin discharged from pulp, paper, and paperboard mills into rivers and other surface waters” (EPA-821-F-97-010, 1997). The EPA estimates that the pulp and paper industry will need to invest approximately $1. 8 billion in capital expenditures, and $277 million per year in operating expenditures to comply with the cluster ruling (EPA-821-F97-010, 1997). Methods Employed to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Pulp Production
Bark and other waste woods are used for mulch, ground cover or in charcoal. Between 1972 and 1990, the use of waste wood and spent liquor for fuel has increased from 40% to 55%, reducing the total fossil fuels usage (Exhibit 1) (Smook, 1992). Chemical recovery systems, which reclaim chemicals from the spent cooking liquor are approaching a 98 percent retention rate (EPA/310-R-95-015, 1995). “In recent years, the amount of water consumed by pulp and paper mills has been dramatically reduced”, due to recycling and reusing mill process waters (Smook, 1992).
For the adsorption of particles, gases and odors, wet scrubbers, fabric filters, gravel bed filters and electrostatic precipitators are being used in smokestacks (Smook, 1992). Oxidation lagoons, and activated sludge tanks are used to duplicate nature’s own purification process at accelerated rates. “Under aerobic conditions, microorganisms (mostly bacteria and fungi) consume oxygen to convert organic waste into the ultimate end products of carbon dioxide and water” (Smook, 1992).
There has been a trend toward reductions in both the types and amount of chlorine and chlorine-containing chemicals used for pulp bleaching. Based on American Forest and Paper Association data, “9 out of 10 pulp and paper mills currently in operation have non-detectable levels of dioxin in effluent” (EPA/310-R-95-015, 1995). Reusable fibers and chemicals in the effluent represent a costly loss to the mill. “Therefore, all actions taken to “tighten up” the process will have the dual benefits of lower raw material cost and reduced pollution loading” (Smook, 1992).
It should be noted that increased operating costs would ultimately be passed on to the consumer. Given the dependence of United States business and industry on paper and related products, this could have a significant impact on the economy. In conclusion, the paper industry is making great strides to implement alternate methods that have a wholly positive impact on the environment. The paper industry is dependent upon the sustainability of our forests, and is continually evaluating its cutting methods and replanting practices to curb deforestation.
There is a need to continue to improve production processes in order to reduce water, chemical and energy usage and pollution to both lower costs and meet EPA regulations. Continued increases in the use of recycled paper, and further implementation of alternative fiber products will enable the paper industry to maintain the competitive advantage it currently enjoys, while decreasing the need for new timber. This coupled with governmental regulations will continue to improve the long-term environmental impacts of the paper making processes on the environment.