Pulp Affliction: Although the Paper Industry Claims That It's Moving towards True Sustainability, Most Environmental Organisations Remain Unconvinced

Geographical, August 2005 | Go to article overview

Pulp Affliction: Although the Paper Industry Claims That It's Moving towards True Sustainability, Most Environmental Organisations Remain Unconvinced


After decades of standing accused of 'ancient forest crime' by environmental NGOs, the paper industry has started to fight back, trumpeting its green credentials. "Our raw material is renewable and recyclable," says Kathy Bradley of the Confederation of Paper Industries. "We're working towards being tire world's first truly sustainable industry."

It all sounds ideal, but the industry's sheer size means that it's almost inevitable that it will have an impact on the environment. In OECD countries, it's the largest industrial consumer of water and the third greatest emitter of greenhouse gas. Worldwide, the OECD expects paper industry emissions of carbon dioxide and sulphur oxides to double by 2020. The big question is whether the industry can respond to these vital environmental challenges.

In Europe, the industry appears to be trying. About half of its energy now comes from biomass fuel, and water pollution is much improved, with some mills able to return water cleaner than they found it. "Our industry has been growing, but all emissions have gone down in absolute terms," says Esa Hyvarinen, director of the environment at the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI). Known as 'decoupling' in Brussels jargon, this separation of economic growth from environmental degradation is a significant achievement. However, globally the situation is more worrying--both in areas of rapid development such as India and in established industries such as that in the USA, emissions from papermaking continue to be an issue.

While recycling has grown rapidly since the 1990s (see Recycling), the issue of virgin fibre sourcing remains controversial. Forests, the natural source of raw material, are more than just an economic resource--150 million indigenous people depend on them and they are home to unparalleled biodiversity.

Certain areas, Indonesia for example, have become causes celebres for environmentalists. "Around five years ago, we noticed lots of Indonesian paper coming into the UK," says Ed Matthew of Friends of the Earth. "It was from April and Asia Pulp and Paper, two of the largest paper companies in the world. They've both done colossal damage in Sumatra, clear-felling high-value conservation forest and making as much money as possible." Although Matthew admits the companies have made changes, he says there is still much to be done. "Our advice is still the same--don't touch Indonesian paper."

Forest-related problems aren't isolated to the tropics. In Canada, Greenpeace has accused Kimberly Clark of clear-cutting the ancient Boreal forest to make its Kleenex brand of tissues. And it's also campaigning in Finland, where "some of the last remaining ancient forest in Europe is being clear-cut for paper," says the organisation's Belinda Fletcher. Both of these claims are denied by the industry.

Fletcher also claims that illegal logs from Russia are crossing into Finland and being pulped for Finnish paper. This could be a wider problem: Europe imports 15 per cent of its virgin pulp from Canada, the USA, Brazil and Southeast Asia. "In all of these areas, you have issues of old-growth forests being cut down for paper," says Jim Ford. Although Bernard de Galembert, forestry director at CEPI, denies this is generally a problem, he does concede there "might" be issues with pulp coining from Southeast Asia. …

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