Debate over paper mill's green credentials

The April paper mill in Sumatra’s Riau province can boast some environmentally friendly practices, such as generating nearly all its own energy.

Still, the green credentials of the Singapore-headquartered pulp and paper giant’s pulp sources are up for debate.

Paper-making requires three main inputs: energy, water and wood.

Huge amounts of energy are needed to cook wood chips down into pulp and run paper machines at 1.5km a minute, while water is used to turn pulp into slurry.

The energy for April’s mill comes mostly from bark stripped off the logs used for wood chips, and a substance called black liquor, a waste product left over from cooking pulp.

Together, these provide 90 per cent of the mill’s energy, with the remainder supplied by coal.

And the firm is trying to trim its freshwater use from its 2007 level of 6.5 cubic m of water per tonne of paper made.

Last year, it made about 810,000 tonnes of paper.

But the input with perhaps the largest environmental footprint is wood.

Environmental groups like Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) level two main accusations against large pulp and paper firms like April and Asia Pulp & Paper: that they use wood from natural forests, and that they plant on peatland, which is a major sink for the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Earlier this year, April’s Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification was suspended on evidence that it was felling rainforests for acacia plantations, destroying high-conservation-value (HCV) forest and draining peatland.

April’s fire and sustainability manager Brad Sanders explained that concession areas granted after 2005 were assessed for HCV areas, and that just over a quarter of April’s million hectares of concessions is conserved.

The company is working to have its FSC certification reinstated, Mr Sanders said. ‘We’re very confident that things will move forward in a positive way.’

As for planting on peatland, Mr Sanders said April has a water management plan to prevent the land from drying out and releasing its stored carbon dioxide.

He added that although peatland is not ideal for planting - its loose, soft ground means trees can topple if they get too tall - April plants only on peat as such lands are near its mill.

But the WWF’s Aditya Bayunanda is sceptical about the effectiveness of such plans. ‘We have not seen evidence that water management in deep peat is sustainable,’ he said.

More printers using ‘green’ paper

THE PaperLinX warehouse in Tuas, tall as a cathedral, is stacked high with pallets of paper.

The paper comes in every format imaginable: ones with glossy finishes that will become corporate brochures, matte white sheets which will be turned into the pages of Lonely Planet guidebooks, and thick cardstock for book covers.

About a fifth of it bears one of two small marks that certify that the paper is ‘sustainable’, either the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC) logos.

The FSC, founded in Germany in 1993, has its own certification to rate paper and other forest products, such as timber and furniture, on how well forests are managed, and the products’ environ-mental and social impact.

The PEFC, on the other hand, gives its stamp of approval based on certification schemes administered by other countries. It is based in Switzerland.

There are various levels of certification and these may include recycled paper.

More companies here are buying sustainable-certified paper, say distributors and printers, thanks to growing awareness of environmental issues.

Ms Genevieve Chua, managing director of paper merchant PaperLinX Asia, said demand for paper is on the rise, thanks to the growth of Asian economies like China and India.

‘My message to people is: Recycle and reduce where you can, but when you need paper, look at sustainable choices,’ she said.

City Developments Ltd (CDL), which like SMRT Corp and other organisations here uses sustainable paper, is doing just that.

CDL spokesman Belinda Lee said 92 per cent of the firm’s marketing communications materials are printed on FSC-certified paper, and the company cut its internal paper use from 5,410 A4 reams in 2007 to 4,395 last year.

Within Asia, consumer awareness of sustainable paper and environmental issues is not high, admitted Mr Edwin Ng, general manager of offset printer Markono, but this is expected to change.

To meet the rising demand, more printers and distributors are becoming FSC-certified in order to handle FSC paper.

In what is called chain-of-custody certification, paper is tracked along the entire supply chain, from pulp to finished product, and such certification helps buyers ensure the product’s origins are truly sustainable.

Certification costs, however, can run into tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the printing company or merchant.

But help is around the corner.

Business development agency Spring Singapore offers the printing industry funding to offset the cost of being certified, in a scheme called Standards Implementation for Productivity.

‘Without certification, printers will be shut out of a significant and growing part of the global publishing market,’ said Spring chief executive Png Cheong Boon in a speech to the industry last year.

At Markono, which caters to international publishers, certified paper makes up about half of demand, up from ‘very few orders’ when it became FSC-certified in 2008, said Mr Ng.

As of July, 39 out of about 800 printers in Singapore were certified, up from just one in 2007.

Sustainable paper is about 10 per cent more costly than conventional paper, said Mr Francis Siow of Fabulous Printers, another FSC-certified firm.

Prices may also rise and fall depending on the supply, much of which comes from Europe and the United States.

Asia accounts for about 2 per cent of all certified paper, which Ms Chua from PaperlinX laments, as it means certified paper has to be shipped from afar and incur carbon footprint and transport costs.

Sustainable paper is cheaper than recycled paper, as the latter has extra steps in its production process to remove ink. Sustainable paper can also be recycled.

But sustainability certification schemes can face criticism.

The PEFC scheme came under fire when environment non-governmental organisation Greenpeace accused pulp and paper giant Asia Pulp & Paper of using destructive logging practices while ‘greenwashing’ itself with PEFC certification.

Source: Straits Times

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