Paper - The Most Common Material


Understanding the 3E's (Energy, Economics and Environmental effect) of Paper Industry


The methodologies of communicating have been evolving since past and in formal communication paper has played a very important role in storing and conveying the messages. References in the history reveals that a Chinese inventor, Cai Lun in AD 105 produced sheets of paper from old rage, tree barks and fishing nets while the Egyptians had discovered 'paper' by pressing papyrus strips together and by 14th century paper was produced in large scale at mills. The use of paper spread from China through the Islamic world, and entered production in Europe in the early 12th century. Industrial production of paper started in early 19th century making it relatively cheap mode for exchange of information in the form of letters, newspapers and books.

India uses paper in sectors like government, education, retail, eCommerce, FMCG, pharma/ healthcare, quality packaging, etc. Ban on single use plastic has made it an alternative choice of material for making bags, packaging for ready-to-eat flood and printed stationary. Central Pulp and Paper Research Institute (CPPRI) in report 2018-2019 says the per capita consumption of paper is 14 kgs while global average is 53kg and India’s consumption can increase to 20kg in future. The report also mentions that there are more than 850 paper manufacturing units with utilisation capacity of 90%. The paper production is likely to grow at annual growth rate of 6% with expected paper production of 39.18 million tonnes by 2030. This implies that the demand of paper will be ever increasing. Let us understand the dynamics of raw materials and its supply.


Manufacturing and Energy consumption

Production of paper uses raw materials like water, energy (mechanical and electrical), chemicals, wood and other pulping materials. In paper making process, first pulp is extracted from the raw materials that are primarily wood based, agro residues and waste paper. Pulp making involves mechanical process where the raw materials is chipped to small particles and then its boiled at high pressure in a chemical solution like sodium hydroxide and sodium sulphide. Pulp at this stage is filtered, bleached. Later its squeezed through a series of rollers where it forms paper. Further its smoothened and cut to desired size. India relies on the imported wood chips, waste paper to meet the supply of raw materials.


Water is another important resources used which is sourced from either rivers or ground water. CPPRI estimates, average fresh water consumption for a domestic forest-based paper mill is estimated to be120-200 per metric tonnes compared to international standard of 20-60 per metric ton. This indicates that India needs to improve on overall operating efficiency and update water management practices.


Pulp and Paper industry is an energy intensive sectors consuming loads of energy in the paper making process. Below table shows the benchmarking done by Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) report 2018 of the energy consumption trend in Paper based on the raw materials used.

Table1 : Benchmarking of Specific Energy Consumption by BEE, Image Credit: Bureou of Energy Efficiency
Figure 1: Raw material wise paper production ,Image credit: Central Pulp & Paper Research Institute (CPPRI) Annual Report 2018-19

Wood based: Largescale paper manufacturing plants use wood as their raw material which form 18% of total paper production as per CPPRI report 2018-2019. Indian paper industry used forest land till 1980 for the source of wood. This meant more deforestation leading to climate change. In 1988, National Forest reform was introduced that helped paper industry to source 90% of wood from farmers who are encouraged to cultivate the trees under government schemes. India has been the first country to adopt National Agro Forestry Policy that helps farmers to cultivate the trees along with crops.

Secondly, the Government has introduced PAT (Performance Achieve and Trade Scheme ) which is a regulatory instrument under the National Acton Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) used to reduce the Specific Energy Consumption (SEC) by energy intensive industries. The industries which meets SEC are issued Energy Savings Certificate (ESCerts)which reduce their SEC beyond their target. With the strong support from the Government on policies, it’s to see that how paper manufactures can benefit and meet the economical demand of paper and give a social cause of its usage.

Agro based: Medium scale paper manufacturer are using agricultural residues such as bagasse, rice and wheat straws, and cotton stalks. 9% of paper industry uses agro based raw materials as per CPPRI. Their use has many challenges, primarily changing the pre-conceived quality of the paper in comparison with wood based and the investments in equipment required to combat pollution. Secondly, storing agro-residue over long periods is troublesome and transportation adds to it. When agro residues is used to make pulp is generate a black colour fluid that has high biochemical oxygen demand(BOD) and chemical oxygen demand(COD) for which yet there is no appropriate technology to process it safe.

Recovered Fibre based (Recycled Paper): Medium and Small scale paper manufacturer use waste paper like corrugated cardboard, newspapers, used books or any other similar paper form which forms 73%of the industry. Collection of used paper from the households, separation from MSW stream is first step that has to be effectively managed to source it as a raw material. Other non-wood raw materials used are wheat straw, rice straw, bagasse, dung from animals like elephant, rhino etc. Recycling of paper to make it a new paper saves the use of natural wood, decreases the operation and capital costs to paper manufacturer, decrease water consumption as compared to manufacturing of the virgin paper. One ton of recycled paper saves an average of 17 trees, landfill space, avoids the emission of GHG that occur due to incineration.

Process of recycling leads to use consumed paper as a source for generating another paper product and thereby creating circular economy as indicated in the below diagram. We need to lean more towards circular rather linear economy which is at concept take, make, consume and dispose.


Figure 2: Linear and Circular economy of paper industry

The major use of paper in India is concentrated in school books, cardboards and packaging materials, newsprint media and the government offices. India does not have much forest left to meet the demand of paper and hence recycling is the best way. Paper Recycling industry demands 14 million tons of waste paper, but the domestic waste paper collected is just to 30% of it. The imports of waste paper have reduced the prices of paper and have created employment opportunities. India is now a global leader in recycling paper industry by overtaking China when it introduced strict restrictions on waste paper imports in year 2019. With this gain, India should not compromise itself on being a dumping yard and should have stringent regulations on the importing waste paper. The reason to this is recycling of paper is also an energy intensive industry, as we have seen in the table above.

However, we often forget 'Reduce, Reuse' of the 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) principle of creating less waste. A lot of steps can be taken, starting with conscious use of paper, towards reducing our paper footprint.

  • Go Digital. Digital world emits less carbon and more environment friendly than paper industry.

  • Choose recycled over Virgin. The offices and media industries need to switch to reuse and recycled paper policy. The recycled paper is available at many retail stores and online.

  • Extend support for maintaining the quality of paper. Our office / big spaces can have paper shredder after the reuse so that it can transported easy or used to downcycle/upcycle.

  • Manufacturing industries can optimise their packing techniques while storing and transporting the product with process like regular audit of waste in packaging, design of the packaging boxes, emphasis on using recyclable paper in packaging etc.

  • Segregate the waste. With mixed waste, our paper waste loses its quality needed for recycling, which eventually lands in our dumpsites and landfills. A proper waste management system and infrastructure is needed for segregated collection, sorting and grading of waste paper.

With India being the world leader in Paper recycling, we collectively need to consciously use and reuse paper.


The planet needs a crucial transition from 'Exploit-Produce-Consume-dispose' mindset and evolve to 'Refuse-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle' outlook, with an ethical shift from 'Use and throw' to 'Take and give back'.




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