Pulp and paper products routinely end up on a lot of environmental “hit lists” because of the raw materials and the process used to pulp and manufacture paper. Most processes rely on chemicals to help debark, depith or “digest” the raw materials to create a pulp that can then be turned into paper. Many years ago, the industry pushed to reduce or eliminate chlorine from the bleaching process so the effluents could be reused for steam and reduce the amount of pollutants involved. Because certain colors depend on certain chemical or pigment properties, a zero chemical process is not likely to ever be the case for pulping and manufacturing. However, modernization can actually greatly reduce the amount of environmental damage from pulp manufacturing.
A significant environmental impact from pulp and paper manufacturing is the waste resulting from the process. In some cases, sulfur compounds or nitrogen oxides are released in the air, chlorinated or organic compounds are discharged into waste water, and there are several cases of municipalities becoming outraged because of the smell coming from the sulfur compounds. Sometimes solid waste, such as sludge made up of waste paper and bark or lime sludge and ash are disposed of at landfills.
Process modifications can mean big environmental savings in terms of energy and waste. For example, Komax has regularly helped paper and pulp mills cope with both efficiency and waste. Sometimes a new steam heater has made a difference by increasing the viscosity of the adhesive chemicals in the water, leading to better drainage, energy savings, and, ironically, less need to use chemicals since the process is much more efficient. A direct steam heater leads to substantial chemical savings. ClO2 bleach mixers save as much as four times their cost in energy in one year alone!
It isn’t always the case that good manufacturing always comes at the expense of the environment. With the right design and technology, sometimes good manufacturing lessens the impact on the environment.