Saturday, 02 December 2023

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The Revolution of The Pulp and Paper Industry

The pulp and paper industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the United States. The three largest paper producing countries are China, the United States, and Japan. The U.S pulp and paper industry employs more than 200,000 people on average. One of the largest paper companies, International Paper, is based in Memphis, TN.

Over the years, the pulp and paper Industry ties to the packaging were unnoticed. Now, more people want to know what is pulp and paper and how is it beneficial to the packaging industry? Does it contribute to deforestation? Lastly, what kind of innovation is happening in the paper industry?

The earliest paper was made from grass in Egypt. Traditionally, papermaking had been traced to China and was first used in 105 AD. The Chinese invented paper from fiber that was derived from Mulberry trees. The industry reached Europe in the 15th Century, due to Johannes Gutenberg’s efforts. Although the pulp and paper industry has been around for a long time, the innovation of using wood to make paper is fairly new. We use more than 1 million tons of paper each day around the world. Wood chips are used to produce pulp, which is then turned into paper. The pulp and paper industry is comprised of companies that use raw materials to produce pulp, paper, and paperboard. The industry is concerned with the production of cellulose-based products from wood. The Industry utilizes a variety of industrial processes to turn natural resources into something consumers can use.

Pulping has three different processes: Mechanical, Chemical, and Semi- Chemical. The mechanical pulping process is one of the oldest forms of pulping. This method consists using mechanical energy to separate fibers from wood. During this process, raw materials are grinded against a surface to defiber the raw material. Since the mechanical grinding process produces shorter fibers, the fiber strength of the pulp is low.

The semi- chemical process involves a pretreatment of the raw material before the mechanical process. In semi-chemical pulping, wood chips are subjected to mild cooking. It is mostly used with sodium sulfite that is then combined with a small quantity of alkaline salts, such as sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, or sodium hydroxide. The next step is cooking the chips. The chips are sandwiched in a disk refiner or two rotating serrated disks. The chips are then separated into individual fibers of cellulose. After the chips are separated, the pulp is washed to remove the chemicals.

The most common used process in the pulp and paper industry is the chemical pulp making process. This process is often called the “Kraft Process.” The sulfate process is now the most widely used chemical pulping system. It evolved from the soda processes developed in the Nineteenth Century, which used strong based alkaline solutions such as lye to digest wood. During this process, soda and sodium sulphate are used to convert wooden chips into a dark brown colored pulp. The pulp is then put through the bleaching phase to create a white pulp. The white pulp is then passed through moving machines where water is separated and formed into sheets. Normally during the chemical pulping process, pulp is whiter and brighter. The final step is a process called calendaring. During this process, the consumer can pick which finish they want or need for the desired product.

Lately, the industry’s focus has been on the environmental issues. Since pulp and paper is a material used daily for many purposes worldwide, it is essential to come up with ways to cause less harm to the forest. The global deforestation and forest degradation are problems of a global scale.

The environmental impact of paper is significant, which has led to changes in industry and behavior at both business and personal levels. The use of modern technology such as the printing press and the highly mechanized harvesting of wood has caused paper to become a cheap commodity everywhere. The global pulp and paper industry is one of the four main causes of deforestation worldwide, according to environmental groups including the Union of Concerned Scientists. Historically, pulp and paper production has ranked among the most resource intensive and highly polluting of all manufacturing industries. The pulp and paper industry is often accused of cutting down trees to make paper which leads to deforestation. However, 39 percent of the fiber used for papermaking comes from recycled paper. Typically, trees used for papermaking are specifically grown and harvested like a crop for that purpose. Many paper mills grow trees at their mill and used those instead of cutting down new trees. During the harvesting process, most of the remaining wood is obtained either through forest thinning (removing slow-growing or defective trees) or from lumber milling residues – materials that otherwise would go unused. Only 36 percent of timber harvested in the United States is used directly to make paper and paperboard. The facts show that the pulp and paper industry is not at fault for deforestation.

The industry works very hard to protect its raw material sources. Mills have the option to use wood coming from sustainable forests. Timber companies and land owners’ manage and harvest their forests to maintain forest productivity and health, protect water resources and biodiversity, and preserve opportunities for hiking, fishing, hunting, and camping. Over the past 50 years, this industry has become much more aware of the environment.

For mills that use wood as their raw material, almost every component of the wood is made into something useful. Bark removed from logs before pulping is usually burned for energy, which provides a biomass-based, renewable energy source. In the most common pulping process, chemicals are regenerated through a complex sequence of processes and wood byproducts are burned for energy. Residual ash is often used in construction materials such as concrete for road construction. In 2015, about 67 percent of all paper was recovered for reuse.

Responsible pulp and paper operations can bring many benefits to forests, local economies and people, particularly in rural areas. Many pulp and paper companies are demonstrating leadership in responsible forestry and plantation management as well as in clean manufacturing processes and recycled content. U.S. consumers can play a key role in directing those in charge of responsible forestry through their paper choices.

When thinking of innovation, people tend to think of it as bigger and better. In the pulp and paper industry, innovation is recognized as the growth of printed or embedded electronics in paper. Innovation starts with improving productivity and reducing steam consumption from paper mills. The pulp and paper industries are starting to apply innovations as they look at how new technologies can achieve saving energy.

Over the years, the pulp and paper industry has become well-known. By being one of the most heavily regulated industries in the United States, this industry has made a great impact on our world and continues to do so. When thinking of pulp and paper, you no longer think of deforestation because the industry is saving trees and coming up with new innovations to better the industry. Next time when you about the pulp and paper industry, think of all the ways it helps you.


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