In a world where notebooks are more electronic than paper-based, and printing is misconstrued as a crime against the environment, many have dismissed pulp and paper as a sunset industry. This could not be further from the truth, as illustrated by the success of the industry’s National Conference and Exhibition – held in Durban between 22-23 October and hosted by TAPPSA (the Technical Association of South Africa’s pulp and paper industry).
Setting the theme of innovation and sustainability, keynote speaker Bruce Strong (CEO of Mpact) reminded delegates of the importance of the pulp and paper industry to every South African. Through the manufacture of the paper, packaging and tissue products that we each use every day, the industry makes a substantial contribution to the country’s GDP. Local pulp and paper sales of R16.35 billion and pulp and paper exports of R9.2 billion (PAMSA 2012) have helped contribute 7.7% to the Manufacturing GDP (excluding roundwood sales). Furthermore, many rural South Africans are directly or indirectly dependent upon the forestry sector for an income, the key beneficiator of which is the pulp and paper industry.
Another key discussion point at the 2013 TAPPSA National Conference was the lack of public knowledge about the unique contribution that the South African pulp and paper industry makes to the environment. It is little known that it is one of the very few industries in the world to be quantified as carbon positive – meaning that, over the entire supply chain, it absorbs more C02 than it releases into the atmosphere.
Beginning at its plantations, the local pulp and paper industry is inherently sustainable. As an agricultural crop, its plantations are cyclically harvested and replanted with in excess of 260 000 trees planted every day. The 762 000 hectares of forestry plantations planted for pulp and paper production act as atmospheric carbon sinks, locking up millions of tonnes of C02 in its paper products. Not printing an email in order to save a tree is the equivalent of not eating bread to save wheat, and is a complete fallacy – the harvesting and planting of trees plays a vital role in capturing greenhouse gases and in providing biodegradable and recyclable end-products.
Even its manufacturing processes inherently reduce global warming. As one of the largest producers of renewable biomass fuel in South Africa, the pulp and paper industry avoids the use of 1,3 million tons of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas each year, therefore reducing its carbon emissions significantly too.
In addition to its production of biomass, conference speakers discussed the opportunities offered by CoGeneration in the pulp and paper industry, the feasibility of generating income from a number of by-products and numerous exciting R&D initiatives by research centres such as Sappi Technology Centre, CSIR and the University of Stellenbosch. The conference also included presentations on energy and paper production optimisation within pulp and paper mills by international and local technology leaders Andritz, Metso, ABB, PMT, BASF and Hitachi Power Systems.
While one cannot deny the ease of digital media and electronic technology, it is essential to keep in mind that refraining from using paper products will not save the environment. Instead, the 2013 TAPPSA National Conference & Exhibition has clarified that buying local paper products will not only continue the industry’s important role in scientific research and rural employment, but that the simplest way for any one of us to contribute to reducing climate change is to use paper products.
TAPPSA is instrumental in the sharing and promotion of top technologies and technical skills across South Africa’s pulp and paper mills. For more information on TAPPSA and its activities, visit www.tappsa.co.za. To learn more about the positive contribution that the pulp and paper industry makes to South Africa, visit www.thepaperstory.co.za.