The greenest paper mill in India is the JK Paper Mills (JKPM) of Raygada of Orissa, according to the country’s first rating of the Indian pulp and paper industry carried out by the New Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). JKPM is followed by Andhra Pradesh Paper Mills Ltd. (APPML) and the Ballarpur unit of Ballarpur Industries Ltd.
Sinar Mas Pulp and Paper, based in Pune district has also turned out to be a relatively cleaner mill. It was not, however, given a rating because the mill was not in operation during the period for which the performance of all the other mills was analysed. The mills which came at the bottom of the rating were Grasim Industries Ltd, based in Kerala, and Amrit Papers and Mukerian Paper Mills both of which are located in Punjab. The exercise was done under the Green Rating Project (GRP) of CSE.
To arrive at a rating, a mill is evaluated using over 100 criteria under three categories - the corporate environment policy and management systems, the plant-level environmental performance, and the perception of the mill’s environmental responsibility, including that of the local community. JKPM, for example, scored above 50 per cent in both environmental policy and community perception but got just 19 per cent in plant level performance. Most of the mills that were rated low were found to be having no environmental policy and using outdated technology. The rating process took about 18 months. In this period, environmental reports from Western countries were also consulted to get an idea about the best practices across the world. Then companies were sent outquestionnaires to fill in.
Former Finance Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who chairs the project advisory panel, underscores the importance of the project. " Being environmentally-friendly is not only a moral obligation, it also makes good economic sense.... Ultimately a country like India cannot be governed by ever expanding regulations.... We must develop a more participatory style of management and regulations which rely more and more on self performance and self improvement. And ratings can help in inducing that change in mindset," says Dr Singh.
"What surprised CSE most was the willingness of the mills to give out information. We never expected a 100 per cent response," says Anil Agarwal, Director of CSE. Twenty eight plants with a capacity of over 100 tonnes per day production were approached by CSE to reveal information. Initially only one company did so. But as the deadline approached all companies sent in the details. These mills produce over 50 per cent of the country’s paper and board.
The green rating report reveals, however, that the environmental health of the sector overall is not very good. Not one mill could get a five leaf rating (75-100 weighted score) or a four leaf rating (50-75 weighted score). Only two companies scraped into the three leaf category. As many as 12 companies were in the very poor one leaf category. The sector is plagued by resource use inefficiency, improper sourcing of raw material, outdated technology and a highly wasteful and polluting production process. The pulp and paper industry is one of the oldest in India. By international standards, India is still a very low producer and consumer of paper. The aggregate capacity of Indian mills is not enough to meet the demands. Even pulp is in short supply and is usually imported. In the last 10 years or so, due to environmental concerns, many modifications and upgradations have taken place in the industry in the West. However, to make these investments economical the size of the mill has to be much larger than what it is in India. Indian mills are normally one-tenth the size of foreign mills and hence very polluting. An average large-scale Indian mill has a capacity of 33,000 tons per annum while a large mill in Brazil or Sweden has a capacity of 3,00,000 tons per annum. Unless the paper industry upgrades its technology not only will it face an economic threat from foreign competitors but it will also continue to be a highly polluting sector.
The paper sector according to the green rating project has to improve its efficiency in the use of water, chemicals used for bleaching, energy and fibre. No policy has been developed by the government to help this sector promote farm forestry to source hardwood and bamboo for producing pulp. Even the 1988 forest policy says that commercial wood needs should be met from farmers. A few companies have, nonetheless, made some efforts to promote farm forestry to meet their wood needs. Worse still while almost 30 per cent of paper is recycled in India, it is not recycled to make paper. This is in stark contrast with countries like Japan that recycle 60 to 70 per cent of their paper. Also India today imports waste paper for the pulp and paper Industry.
The global debate over the use of chlorine free bleaching has largely bypassed the industry in India. Almost all mills continue to use chlorine to bleach paper. Use of chlorine can release a lot of dioxin and other chloroorganics that can enter the food chain. They have strong cancer causing properties. Though the pollution control boards have standards for AOX (total organochlorides) releases but no agency is monitoring their levels in the effluents.
Freshwater consumption by Indian mills is dangerously high for the health of the water bodies. To produce one tonne of paper an Indian mill can use as much as 250 cubic meters of water, as opposed to 25 cubic meters in the industrialised world. Water is priced in such a manner that profligacy in its use is encouraged. Mills should think in terms of harvesting rainwater and recycling it. A calculation made by Sinar Mas shows that it can meet 50 per cent of its current water needs through rainwater harvesting.
The green rating project already seems to be having some impact on the industry. The project has helped to take the issue of environmental management to the top management levels of the pulp and paper companies.
CEOs and top managers of 71 per cent of the companies interacted directly with CSE during the project. Senior managers of 43 per cent of the companies visited CSE.
At the outset of GRP only one pulp and paper mill had a formal environment policy, namely JK Corporation, which also has an ISO 14,000 certification. By the time the ratings were finalised 9 companies had an environment policy statement. "Hopefully all these companies will perform better when we rate them again in two to three years," said Agarwal.