Effective work to enhance the efficiency of the forest industry’s use of water and its purification has been ongoing for decades. Emissions have been reduced to a fraction of the highest levels recorded in past years while, in the same time, the paper and board industry has doubled its production volumes. The industry has also been making significant investments, totalling €20-30 million each year, to cut emissions which cause eutrophication of water bodies.
The forest industry has reduced emissions by developing its processes so that a lesser amount of raw materials combined with smaller production inputs yields a larger amount of end product. Water use has also been cut down considerably. The return of valuable fish to water bodies downstream from factory towns is also one indicator of improvement in water conditions.
“The pulp and paper industry could still reduce further its emissions into water bodies, but this investment would not lead to a significant improvement in the state of the water system because the best technology in the field is already being used. The facilities of the forest industry only account for a small share of the activities that burden water bodies at present,” says Alina Ruonala-Lindgren, Director of Resources and Environmental Issues at the Finnish Forest Industries Federation.
Professor Olli Dahl, head of the laboratory of chemical pulping and environmental technology at the Helsinki University of Technology, thinks that the forest industry has been effective in its efforts to curb environmental emissions. Taking further steps would be prohibitively expensive and the overall effects achieved would not be positive from an environmental perspective. According to Dahl, reducing emissions into water would increase the amount of atmospheric emissions and solid waste discharges; matter cannot disappear, after all, it only changes states. For example, the purification of water would involve steaming, which means that increasing the effectiveness of the cleansing process would eat up considerable amounts of energy.
“The forest industry aims to operate production facilities steadily and uninterruptedly, which also benefits the health of water systems. From an environmental perspective, the best solution is to predict and manage disturbances instead of increasing the amount of purification equipment,” Ruonala-Lindgren reckons.
Production up, emissions down
In five decades, the production volumes of paper and board have increased over threefold and pulp production volumes have more than doubled. Over the same time, the burden on water systems caused by the pulp and paper industry has fallen to a fraction – the amount of solid matter emissions has reduced from 394,000 to 14,000 tonnes, for example. Emissions of nutrients, which cause eutrophication, have fallen to less than a third of the levels recorded at the end of the 1980s. In the 1970's, the amount of raw water used per tonne of finished product was 250 m3 in pulp manufacturing, nowadays only 20-50 m3. In the newspaper production the amount of raw water has decreased from 100-150 m3 to 7-15 m3.
On average, the pulp and paper industry invests €65 million in environment protection in Finland. In addition to these investments, the forest industry spends some €100 million on environment protection annually. A large portion of this is allocated to protection of water.
Alina Ruonala-Lindgren, Director, Resources and Environmental Issues, Finnish Forest Industries Federation
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