All About the Pulp and Paper Industry

Wood chips being stockpiled to be made into pulp and, ultimately, paper.

5. Description

The paper and pulp industry is concerned with the production of a number of cellulose-based products from wood. The industry is one among the largest industrial sectors in the global marketplace, and is expected to reach $256 billion USD in 2017, and approximately 3.5 million people are directly employed by the industry across the globe. The industry produces a wide range of commercial paper products, including tissue paper, glossy paper, catalog paper, drawing paper, and printer paper, with paper for envelopes, cards, newspapers, magazine, and other purposes are also produced by the industry. It also produces the paperboard which is used for shipment and storage of all kinds of consumer goods, as well as the pulp used for making sanitation and female hygiene products.

4. Location

The United States of America, Canada, and Sweden continue to dominate the paper and pulp industry today, with such Asian economic giants as India and China doing exceptionally well in the sector themselves. On the other hand, the countries of Russia, China, and Indonesia are some of the most notable importers of wood pulp, with Japan, France, Germany, Malaysia and North Korea also being countries that import millions of tons of paper each year to meet their own high domestic demands. The main reason for the dominance of some countries in the paper and pulp industry lies in their strong economies, which facilitate an ease of access to technological advances, transport services for standard delivery of finished products, and some other advantages relevant to the industry.

3. Process

The paper and pulp industry utilizes a variety of industrial processes to turn its natural resources (namely wood pulp) into consumer grade commodities. For pulping, there are three different processes. Specifically, these are the mechanical one, the chemical one, and, lastly, the semi-chemical one. The chemical pulp making process is most popular today, and is mainly done by utilizing the "Kraft process", wherein caustic soda and sodium sulphate are used to convert wooden chips into a dark, brown-colored pulp. This pulp is then bleached by chlorine dioxide to produce a white pulp suitable for paper making, sanitary products, and other purposes. The pulp is then passed through an endless moving mesh of wires where water gets separated and the formation of it into sheets take place. These sheets of paper are then dried by using heated cast iron cylinders. Finally, the paper undergoes a process called "calendaring" to achieve its desired smooth finish.

2. History

The Chinese invented paper as we know it from a fiber derived from mulberry trees around 105 AD. Centuries prior to this, Egyptians were using a thick, paper-like material made from the papyrus plant, while in India copper plates, or ‘tamrapatra’, were popular media for writing script upon. In the 8th Century AD, Arabs started taking a keen interest in making paper from linen, and established a paper mill in 795 AD, near modern Baghdad. By the dawn of the 11th Century, the Japanese were making paper from waste paper. The industry reached Europe in the 15th Century, due to the efforts of a German printing expert by the name of Johannes Gutenberg. Before that time, calf-skin (i.e. vellum) was primarily used there instead of paper. Things improved in the 18th Century, with the use of recycled cotton rags for paper production. The New World saw its first paper mill developed in 1575 in what is now the country of Mexico. However, the commercial production of paper from wood pulp only started in the Late 19th Century in Ontario, Canada. At present, there are more than 430 paper and pulp mills in the United States of America.

1. Regulations

The paper and pulp industry is regulated by environmental and workplace regulations worldwide. The industry poses a serious threat to environment, as it leads to deforestation (in harvesting the pulpwood) and pollution of water (by emitting waste water with a high concentration of sodium hydroxide, sodium sulfide, bisulfites, sodium carbonate, elemental chlorine, etc. during processing). The industry also consumes large amounts of fresh water, which can lead to depletion of aquifers in certain at-risk areas, and could otherwise be used for residential or agricultural purposes. There have been plenty of workplace accidents at pulp and paper mills in the past, though these have been now reduced significantly due to more stringent workplace regulations. Nonetheless, many of the potentially harmful effects of the paper and pulp industry have led to increased demands for the use responsible forestry practices, maintaining virgin reserves of forest lands, and for people to recycle paper products as much as possible.


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