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Paper: Growth with Sustainability

Paper is an integral part of the daily lives of people. Paper is one of the most environmentally sustainable products as it is biodegradable, recyclable and is produced from sources which are renewable and sustainable. Paper can be recycled up to 6-7 times, making it one of the most recycled products in the world.

Paperboard / packaging is crucial for almost all goods, especially all kinds of essential goods, FMCG, pharmaceuticals, food products, soaps, milk cartons, hygiene products, textiles, etc. Tissue paper helps in improving the hygienic conditions and is used in all health-conscious institutions / areas like hospitals, hospitality, etc. Similarly, writing & printing paper is essential not only for education and offices, but also for labels, pharmaceutical inserts, etc. Newsprint is required for printing newspapers.

The key drivers for growth in paper consumption in India are many. Greater emphasis on education and literacy by the government coupled with growth in organised retail and demand for better quality paper are the major drivers for writing and printing paper. Demand for better quality and environment-friendly packaging of FMCG products marketed through organised retail, booming e-commerce, rising healthcare spends, over-the-counter medicines and increasing preference for ready-to-eat foods are the key demand drivers for paperboard / packaging paper.

India’s Paper Industry has been closely associated with the national objectives of literacy, greening India, rural employment, and usage of sustainable resources, besides meeting paper needs of the Indian consumers.

Around 75% of the total paper produced in India is from recovered fibre, that is paper recovered post-consumer use. The rest 25% is from virgin fibre, primarily wood which is grown by farmers as any other crop and sold to paper mills after harvesting it. India’s Paper Industry is agro / farm forestry based and substantial amounts have been spent by the Paper Industry on plantation R&D, production of high-quality clonal saplings with lesser rotation period, technical extension services to improve agro / farm forestry services, hand holding of marginal farmers over a gestation period of 4-5 years. This has generated significant employment opportunities for the local community, especially in the rural areas, with more than 5 lakh farmers engaged in raising plantations.

The industry has been encouraging the growing of trees at a faster pace by the farmers for sourcing wood. Paper Industry’s plantation promoting activity has led to more than 12 lakh hectares of mainly marginal land in the country coming under green cover. This, apart from supplementing farm incomes and promoting rural employment, has helped significantly in carbon sequestration and other environmental benefits, and improved the sustainability of the industry.

Contrary to the perception, paper is green, and it is never too early to switch to paper-based alternatives for the larger good of the environment. Two of the foremost global environmental issues are the disposal of single-use plastic and e-waste. Both these issues are addressed to a large extent by the use of paper as an alternative.

Paper mills in India have been working towards better energy efficiency, green energy, employing a range of innovations and technologies, and thereby moving up the sustainability curve by reducing resource intensity and curbing its environmental footprint. Paper mills have also undertaken significant upgradation of process technology to comply with stringent environmental norms / standards to reduce freshwater consumption and effluent and emission generation. Specific water and energy consumption is being reduced continuously to lessen the carbon footprint. The industry is moving rapidly up the technology and sustainability curves matching with the world’s best.

The Paper Industry in the last 15 years has taken some landmark initiatives. Be it creation of a robust and renewable raw material sourcing base, offering innovative, eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastic or incorporation of process technologies with least environmental footprint, Paper Industry has come a long way.

The industry has taken significant leaps in the last few years in technological upgradation, process-optimisation and introduction of best practices. The industry has worked hard on reducing specific energy consumption. Under the PAT (Perform Achieve Trade) scheme of the Government for promoting energy efficiency, the Paper Industry has been one of the top performing sectors and has over-exceeded the mandated stiff targets.

In fact, the industry has managed to bring down its energy consumption by about 20% in the last five years. Integrated paper mills in India generate over 40% of the power they use by utilising the biomass (renewable energy) from the pulping process.

Till a few years ago, the industry used to consume 200 cubic metres of water to produce a tonne of paper. Now, the integrated mills have reduced that to under 50 cubic metres.

Paper is being recognised globally as an environmentally friendly product promoting circular economy and not as an environment harming one as has been wrongly projected and propagated for years by vested interests.

The negativities attached to the Paper Industry have been giving way to better appreciation of the industry’ efforts towards sustainability in government and policy making circles.

All stakeholders need to support the industry that has strong backward linkages with the farming community, generates employment in rural areas, and significantly contributes to the national objective of bringing 33% of land mass in India under tree cover, apart from also significantly contributing towards the national objectives of education and literacy. Use more paper to save the environment!

Article by Mr.Rohit Pandit, Secretary General, Indian Paper Manufacturers Association (IPMA)

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