How much water is used in a paper mill? Go

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking at an AIChE Water Sustainability workshop alongside Jerry Schwartz from AFPA and Nicole Tanner from WWF.  Our session covered the “External Pressures and Drivers” related to water usage in the pulp and paper industry.  Herein I’ve captured just a few of the highlights from our session.

There is clearly an emergence of interest around measuring and disclosing water usage.  A quick search in the blog-o-sphere or a #water search on Twitter will reveal that the pundits are all abuzz over water.  There are innumerable efforts underway to measure and disclose water usage.  However, there is much confusion over key metrics, the best tools available and what the “value” of water is for pulp and paper mills.

Without clear definitions it is difficult to have a meaningful dialogue with key stakeholders.  Take for instance the simple term, water “use”.   One would think if you asked a company how much water they “use” to make paper that you would get a straight forward answer.  But unfortunately the current conversation on water is a little murky at best.

Some mills will define water use as how much water enters the mill.  Other mills will define use as the amount discharged from the water treatment facility.  And it is not always clear whether non-contact cooling waters have been included in these metrics.  We also see reports referring to the difference between intake and discharge as use.  There are seasonal variations to consider and it is important to understand whether or not water is coming from surface sources (rivers and lakes) or groundwater sources (wells).

Of course, water volume is only one aspect of understanding the environmental impact associated with use.  There are a myriad of water quality indicators that need to be considered and understood as well (for example, suspended solids, oxygen demand, temperature, etc).

Clearly, papermaking involves vast quantities of water – millions of gallons per day.  It is as integral to the process as fiber and energy.  It is important that we create clear definitions and appropriate metrics for disclosure.  Understanding the true value of water will lead to appropriate goal setting and attention paid to the right issues.

Water is clearly an emerging issue for our industry and we are excited to be part of the dialogue.  In the meantime, with the vast differences in terminology that I have described – what do you think of “water neutral” claims?  I believe it is an interesting concept, but premature at best.