Pulp and Paper Industry Essay

This essay has a total of 3330 words and 19 pages.

Pulp and Paper Industry

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).

Selective Cutting
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).

Alternative Pulp Products
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).

Joint Environmental Research
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).

Pulp and Paper Production
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).
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