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Management Side
Trees are the answer!
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Canada's 100th Anniversary PaperWeek was held earlier this year. PAPTAC organised a good program, based on industry experts and academics, and a few star speakers from outside the industry, including Dr. Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, and its former president.

The program focused on potential new products that the pulp and paper industry could produce, giving some hope for the resurrection of closed or dying mill sites over the next few years. However, to me, the most immediately useful aspect was improving the industry's communications with the public.

PAPTAC made attendees think more about this by having Patrick Moore as a lunchtime speaker. There is a video of a subsequent interview with him at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wi_qSJ-2ESM. His presentation is not available on the Internet, but similar ones by Patrick Moore are easy to find at youtube.com, and are well worth watching.

Moore's key message is that pulp and paper companies are not "nasty profiteers", but are primarily providers of goods the people need or want. The companies incidentally make a profit of a few percentages of the selling price. Those that fail to make a profit in the long term go bankrupt and cease to provide for people's needs.

As Mr. Moore said, trees ARE the answer to a number of questions, such as "What is the most renewable and sustainable material for small-to-medium building construction, or furniture manufacture? "What is the best raw material for providing people with sanitary wipes of all kinds for personal and medical uses?" "What is the best raw material for packaging most consumer goods?"

The pulp and paper industry made dramatic, and expensive, strides in reducing mill discharges to levels that are mostly below the level of scientific significance. Nowadays, there are relatively few complaints about the environmental performance of pulp and paper mills.

Nevertheless, the industry still faces widespread criticism for cutting trees. Everyone has seen the misleading signature messages on Emails saying, effectively, "Save a tree. Don't print this" We have all read the statements by banks, credit card services etc. claiming that they are changing from paper billing and statements to electronic ones for environmental reasons, when the real reason is that the electronic way saves them money.

Most of the trees cut in North America are used to make things: houses, furniture, formwork for concrete, packaging, milk cartons, industrial structures, and so forth. In all cases, the wood, or paper made from wood, replaces some material that is non-renewable and/or generates greenhouse gases. These materials include glass, metal, plastic and concrete. Thus, the more trees that are cut, the better for the environment, provided that the forest is replanted and well managed, as most are today.

This issue of wood replacing less environmentally desirable materials seems to be unknown to the "anti-tree" gang, and is all too rarely mentioned by the forest industry personnel dealing with the media and the public. When facing environmental criticism, the industry approach is usually to point out that modern mills cause little or no environmental damage, and that they create jobs. All true, but this is a defensive approach. Industry spokesmen rarely explain that forest products replace less environmentally desirable materials, and assist in dramatically improved hygiene and health, relative to the life experienced by our ancestors and by today's third-world inhabitants. There is plenty of data to support this positive approach, but it is inadequately publicised.

I was pleased to see that much of the technical program at PaperWeek was directed toward new products, rather than the traditional focus of evolutionary tweaks to the established manufacturing processes.

Kruger, a 100-year-old family company producing traditional paper products, is running a 5 tpd pilot plant producing cellulose filaments. Successful trials so far have demonstrated substantial improvement in paper strength, opening the door to lighter and/or stronger products. This, we hope, will open new markets competing with plastics, as well as reducing furnish costs in traditional products.

Dr. Olson of University of British Columbia presented interesting data on "foam paper" suggesting that the time is ripe for acoustic and thermal insulation to be made from pulp fibres.

Mansel Griffiths or the University of Guelph described using bacteriophages to improve packaging paper to provide control of bacteria in food. This opens the opportunity for paper to replace plastic in a large market.

Theo van de Ven of McGill University described on-going developments in using pulp fibres for textile production. The recent replacement of cotton by rayon and similar fibres made from dissolving pulp has been a welcome boost to the pulp industry, but the established processes are complex, expensive and have environmental issues. The McGill developments avoid the organic solvents and offer the possibility of replacing petroleum based polymers with wood-based cellulose. The potential market is enormous, and the process concept seems well suited to replace the traditional pulp dryer in some mills. This concept seems to be in competition with the technology being developed by Spinnova of Finland, where textile yarns are made from wood.

PaperWeek presented information on developments in the bio-refinery, much of it oriented to manufacturing fuel from wood waste. As we have mentioned in this column before, it is difficult to see such processes being competitive with oil and gas, so commercialisation relies on taxpayer subsidies for "green" technologies. One has to wonder how long these will last, as evidence that the rising carbon dioxide content of our atmosphere is not the serious danger claimed by some organisations.
 

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