Paper Industry: Environment Friendly or Not

by Team Conscious Carma

How environment-friendly is the paper industry? Are we clearing forests to produce paper and thus degrading the environment? There are a lot of questions when it comes to paper being environmentally friendly or not.

Conscious Carma, in conversation with Rohit Pandit, Secretary-General, Indian Paper Manufacturers Association (IPMA) tries to clear some myths surrounding Paper and brings forth various initiatives by industry bodies as well Paper mills and the government to make this industrial process as environment-friendly as possible.

Paper industry is not eco-friendly. Can you please comment on this?

Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, few industries in India can match the sustainability that paper offers. It is fully biodegradable and can be recycled up to 6-7 times. Moreover, it is made from resources which are renewable and can be easily regenerated. Paper industry is not only conserving the environment but also regenerating natural resources. Two significant global pollution problems being faced are the disposal of single-use plastic and e-waste. Paper provides an eco-friendly alternate in both areas. Paper industry recycles the post-consumer waste paper that is generated. The industry recycles agricultural waste which otherwise would have been burnt in the fields. Paper industry has therefore struck a fine balance between growth and sustainability, unmatched by many other industries.

Paper manufacturing requires a lot of water. What is the Indian paper industry doing to reduce water usage? Have there been any innovations in methods or techniques to reduce water consumption?

On the waterfront, a few years ago, the paper industry used to consume 200 cubic metres of water to produce a tonne of paper. Now, the integrated mills have reduced that to 50 cubic metres. Efforts are on to bring it further down to 35-40 cubic metres by inducting a whole range of water conservation technologies.

Paper manufacturing process leads to a lot of environmental pollution. What’s your take on it?

Paper manufacturing scenario in India is witnessing a significant shift towards sustainability. In the last few decades, the large paper mills have gone on an overdrive to improve efficiencies, increase productivity and reduce resource intensity. The industry has been working on new practices including research & development towards energy efficiency, environment preservation and better overall process technology, etc. The industry has managed to bring down its specific energy consumption by about 20% in the last five years. Integrated paper mills in India now generate 50-60% of the power they use by utilising the black liquor from the pulping process. In the first two cycles of PAT (Perform Achieve Trade) scheme of the Government, the paper industry significantly over-achieved the mandated stiff targets for energy saving. The environmental standards mandated by the government have become stringent over time and all members of the Indian Paper Manufacturers Association (IPMA) are environment compliant.

How much Paper industry contribute to the National GDP, Export and employment?

The Indian Pulp & Paper Industry provides direct employment to 5 lakh persons, and indirectly to around 15 lakhs, and has an annual turnover of over INR 70,000 crores (domestic market size of INR 80,000 crores). In 2019-20, exports of paper were over INR 6,800 crores.

How has the paper industry evolved over the years? What major changes have come in, which are environment friendly?

As opposed to the common perception, the paper industry in India is not cutting forests. Over the last two decades, the industry has been encouraging the growth of trees by the farmers, like other crops, especially on degraded lands for sourcing wood. In fact, the paper industry grows more trees than it harvests, and is therefore wood-positive. Not only that, growing trees by paper industry is leading to the absorption of carbon dioxide and helping the cause of mitigating climate change. The agroforestry model adopted by the Indian Paper Industry is one-of-its-kind in the world.

Three alternate raw materials are used for manufacturing paper in India. These are wood, agro residue (wheat straw, bagasse) and recycled fibre/wastepaper. Paper manufactured from wood is about 25% of the total paper manufactured. Over 90% of the wood used by the paper industry is procured from agro / farm forestry. This not only helps on the environmental front significantly but also has supplemented the incomes of farmers.

What are the steps required to make the Indian Paper Industry environment friendly? What role IPMA is playing in the same?

IPMA, along with CII, has been engaged in a project titled “Making Indian Paper Industry World Class” which is running for more than 10 years and is playing a key role in upgrading practices and processes at Indian paper mills. The industry is increasingly adopting the circular economy model and focus not only on Reduce, Reuse, Recycle but also on Redesign, Remanufacture and Refurbish.

What are the growth rate of the Paper Industry and the factors contributing to its growth?

According to IPMA estimates, paper consumption in India is growing at 6-7% per annum (pre-COVID). The per capita consumption of paper in India is still very low at 14 kgs per annum, as compared to the global average of 57 kgs (in developed countries, it is +200 kgs). The key drivers for growth include a greater emphasis on education and literacy by the government coupled with growth in organised retail and demand for better quality paper in writing and printing segment. Demand for better quality packaging of FMCG products marketed through organised retail, booming e-commerce, rising healthcare spends, over-the-counter medicines and increasing preference for ready-to-eat foods are the key demand drivers for paperboard/packaging paper.

How does Indian Paper industry compare vis-à-vis Global Paper Industry in terms of environmentally friendly practices?

Indian Paper Industry, especially the integrated paper mills, compare favourably with global peers. Economies of scale play a key role in benchmarking practices to global levels. Over the last few years, certain key players have invested handsomely in capacity creation and technology up-gradation to achieve size and scale. The industry appreciates that it needs to take significant leaps in technological up-gradation, process-optimisation and introduction of better practices to minimise the usage of energy and water.

Rohit Pandit,
Indian Paper Manufacturers Association (IPMA)

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