Pulp and paper
This challenge spans the whole supply chain, from where and how wood is grown and harvested to how wisely and efficiently it is processed, used and reused. It also involves changes to consumption patterns – such as eliminating excessive and wasteful use of paper in rich societies, while improving access for the poor to paper products that can improve education, hygiene and food safety.
Advancing technology is enabling new uses of wood and its core chemical components in composites, films and chemically processed speciality cellulose. In the future such uses could add significantly to the volume of wood that needs to be extracted from forests or grown in plantations.
Pulp and paper is produced on all continents. The largest producer countries, US, China, Japan and Canada, make up more than half of the world’s paper production which is 400 million tons a year. That is the equivalent in weight of 80 million elephants.
Pulp and paper is made out of wood fibres originating from natural forests or pulpwood plantations. Over half of the resource comes aleady from recycled fibre and other fibre sources such as agricultural residue. There is however still potential for growth in recycled fibre use.
Many global pulp and paper companies are moving their production to the South due to lower production costs and proximity to fast growing pulpwood plantations. Hence, responsible pulpwood plantations practices are urgently needed.
Unsustainable logging by some businesses in the paper industry degrades forests, accelerates climate change and leads to wildlife loss. Such practices also affect people who depend directly on forests.
How can this trend be reversed?
Through the Pulp and Paper programme, WWF engages with stakeholders to bring about sustainable forestry, clean pulp and paper manufacturing, and promote responsible paper consumption.
What are the solutions?
- Wood fibres can be grown, sourced and reused in a responsible way. Maximizing the use of recycled fibres and sourcing virgin fibre from credibly certified natural forests and plantations can reduce paper’s ecological footprint.
- With the use of clean technology, the manufacturing processes can minimize pulp and paper products’ impacts on climate change and water. Carbon dioxide emissions from the manufacturing process can be reduced by investing in new plants, retrofitting existing plants, heat recovery and increased paper recycling.
- Responsible consumption practices can also help to reduce the environmental impact of paper.
What WWF is doing
- Promoting responsible pulpwood sourcing, clean pulp and paper production, responsible paper use, and transparency across the pulp and paper sector.
- Supporting the preservation of high conservation values in WWF’s priority places where the pulp and paper industry is a key actor.
- Working with pulp & paper producers and buyers towards responsible production and consumption of paper products.
- Co-ordinating with the WWF Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN), an initiative which supports responsible trade of timber and paper products.
- Promoting improvements to pulpwood plantations. The New Generation Plantations (NGP) platform allows forest products industry, regulators, financiers and other stakeholders to debate, learn from and promote improved practices in plantation forestry.
- Supporting responsible finance across the pulp and paper sector.
- Promoting fairer access to paper resources globally, including reducing wasteful consumption. In order to achieve this, we have joined forces with some 100 NGOs on the European Environmental Paper Network.
Impacts of the pulp and paper sector on forests:Even though the industry has made progress and leaders show that responsible practices are possible, illegal logging and the irresponsible destruction of old-growth and high conservation value forests are still a fact in some regions.
Some proposed new pulpwood plantations and mills threaten natural habitats in many places with high conservation values.
For example, the remaining natural forests in Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea, Russian Far East, Southern Chile and the Atlantic forest region in Brazil are endangered because of growing demand for pulpwood, among other threats.
Forests also maintain the world’s abundant biodiversity, essential for life on Earth. The activities of the pulp and paper sector in these places threaten the habitats of several rare wildlife species such as Asian big cats (including tigers), Asian elephant, Asian rhinos, and orangutans.
Impacts of the pulp and paper sector on climate change:The pulp and paper industry is the fourth largest industrial user of energy, consuming 6.4 EJ in 2005, and a significant emitter of greenhouse gas (source EIA report 2008).
In fact, the largest share of greenhouse gas released in pulp and paper manufacturing comes from the energy production to power the mills. Greenhouse gases are the main source of climate change/global warming.
The disposal of used paper also contributes to climate change.
Paper emits methane (a greenhouse gas) when it rots, while it also releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) when it is composted or burned.
The C02 emissions coming from the burning or decomposition of wood, during the paper making process or at the end of the life of the product, will be stored back in the forest when it grows, if it is managed appropriately. Meanwhile it can be a very large amount of CO2 emitted to the athmosphere, which is not well measured until now.
Impacts of the pulp and paper sector on water:
Paper mills may also discharge many pollutants in surrounding water bodies, causing damage to aquatic ecosystems and threatening the health of people living near the mill.
While new technology has substantially reduced water emissions from many mills, there is significant variation around the world in the use of this technology and major polluting incidents still occur.
Water pollutants can include:
- persistent toxic chlorine compounds like dioxins
- organic materials that consume oxygen during decomposition
- sulphur dioxide that contribute to lake acidification
- air-polluting nitrogenous compounds and phosphates that boost algae growth