Paper industry salutes environmental progress

European paper sector on the road to sustainability, says EU trade association

Europe's pulp and paper industry is en route for sustainability, according to a report from the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI). The just released annual environmental progress report describes major environmental issues facing the industry as being "resolved or well on the way to being solved". "In a few short years, the pulp and paper industry has moved towards becoming a sustainable industry," it concludes.

CEPI's buoyant tone on environmental issues is unusual for a European industry association. It reflects an increasing confidence on the part of the paper and pulp industry that it can profit from moves towards sustainable development. The "decisive factor," CEPI's report concludes, is that the industry "is based on a renewable raw material...and that its products are recyclable".

In an "environmental checklist," CEPI lists progress on a range of environmental issues. In pulp and paper making, emissions of fibres, biological oxygen demand and chlorate and dioxin formation in processes have all been "solved," it says. Sulphur dioxide and odour emissions have been "almost solved"; Nutrient emissions are "under control," and chlorine emissions are "possibly solved".

Energy consumption relative to production has been halved in some countries over the last 30 years, while water consumption has been reduced by a "staggering" 50-80% over the last 20 years. Only in three areas does the trade association indicate that more serious challenges remain. Issues around metal emissions, chemical additives and transport are "being studied," the report says.

CEPI is equally bullish on the upstream and downstream aspects of its industry - forestry and waste paper recovery. European forestry is sustainable, the report asserts; its area increased by roughly the size of Denmark over the last 35 years and is still growing so that annual growth currently exceeds the harvest by 193m cubic metres of wood. European forests are "well managed," it says, and include "vast protected areas".

As for recovery and recycling, CEPI reports that 1996 was a record year, with paper recovery - the ratio of waste paper collected to paper consumption - reaching 49.8%. Recycled fibres accounted for 44% of total paper produced by the European paper industry in 1996, and "the proportion is rising year by year," the association says.

Two remaining challenges identified by CEPI are for paper processing industries to adopt environmental management systems and for systems of shared responsibility to be worked out across the "paper chain". The association "strongly believes" that the ISO 14001 environmental management standard and EU eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS) are "the best route towards better environmental performance for process industries."

Follow Up:
CEPI, tel: +32 2 627 4911.

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