On paper

The Green Rating Project (GRP) of the Centre for Science and Environment was conceived as a means to track the environmental performance of India's key industrial sectors. Its essence? There had to be a way civil society could provide -- and make public -- a scientific knowledge of, and a positive check on, the effects of industrialisation on the country's natural resource base, and its people.

GRP has done exactly this, since its inception. In 1999, it rated the pulp and paper sector. In 2001 came the rating of the powerful automobile sector. In 2002 it grappled with the performance of the chlor-alkali sector.

And now, GRP rates the pulp and paper sector for the second time.

What follows is not a snap-shot. It is definitely not as short-term, or sensational, as an opinion poll. This rating benchmarks the present. Even as companies compete for leadership, and the top spot, it provides an empirical, verifiable measure of change.

And GRP-driven change has occurred. Cynics, prepare to be surprised...

Click to see the report card - How India's pulp and paper sector fared>>>

Published: Friday 15 October 2004

On paper

-- (Credit: Sunita Narain / CSE)The Top 3
What makes these companies the best

#1 ITC Ltd-Bhadrachalam Unit
For technology leapfrog -- for eliminating toxic chlorine from the bleaching process; proactively reaching farmers, exhorting them to grow wood. Mind, water use in this plant is still too high; effluent disposal still pollutes the river.

This company's performance leaps up from 32 per cent (its 1999 rating; that deserved a two leaves award).

Now scoring 47 per cent, ITC's plant at Bhadrachalam gets the three leaves award

Technology leapfrog
In 2001, the plant invested over Rs 500 crore in a wide-ranging modernisation programme, including a shift to elemental chlorine-free (ECF) technology. The full impact of this technology change isn't fully evident yet, for the period of GRP's second assessment was 1998-2002: so it is that the company's overall score is a relatively poor 47 per cent.

This 770-tonne-a-day capacity plant is today the largest in the country. It is the first paper mill in India to have phased out the use of highly polluting elemental chlorine: now, it can sell packaging paper, which is food grade and non-toxic. It has improved energy and chemical efficiencies. By installing a lime kiln for re-burning lime sludge, it has moved towards closing its material cycle. (Usually, when sludge is burnt in the kiln, lime is regenerated. But because lime is so cheap, companies do not invest in this material-closing technology.)

This technology leapfrog has resulted in a drop in organochlorine emissions (AOX) from 2.6 kg/tonne of bleached pulp in 1998 to as low as 0.3 kg/tonne by the end of 2002. In the same period, the lime consumption in the plant reduced from 289 kg/tonne of pulp to as little as 23 kg/tonne.

Securing a raw material future
The mill currently meets about 80 per cent of its wood and bamboo requirements from farm and social forestry. It sources directly from farmers, who are encouraged to buy high quality seedlings and clones from the companiy's own nurseries. Its investment research and development has paid off, for productivity increase -- yields from euculyptus plantations on fields -- has been phenomenal: from 6 tonnes per hectares (ha) in natural forest to 200 tonnes per ha on farmland in a five year growing cycle.

The company's programme extends to 14 districts of Andhra Pradesh. Between 1998-2002, the company distributed 5.94 million seedlings annually to farmers. Its outreach to farmers has increased; from 330 farmers in 1998 to 3335 by 2002. As a result, between 1998-2002 almost 10,000 ha of land was brought under tree cultivation. This translates into a self-sufficiency index -- calculated to understand how capable a company is in securing a sustainable raw material future, based on farmer-grown wood: 33 per cent. In other words, the company can meet one-third of its current requirements from farmers.

Losing out on water
The plant could have done better. But it lost out, primarily on account of its poor water management. It scored just 29.5 per cent, a trifle when compared to the sector-best score of 49.5 per cent in overall water balance and water pollution. So even though the plant has improved its water balance -- from 139 tonnes of water for each tonne of paper produced in 1998 to 82 tonnes of water used for each tonne of paper produced in 2002 -- the plant is still way behind the global best benchmark. For a plant like this one -- producing packaging paper, writing and printing paper and using wastepaper -- the global best uses 17 tonnes of water for each tonne of product produced.

Such enormous water use also leads to a high discharge of effluents. Therefore, the next big challenge for this plant is water consumption and minimum disposal. If it shows leadership in these areas, it could well qualify for the GRP's prestigious five leaves award in the next rating.

#2 JK Paper Mills
For overall efficient resource use; for its extensive farm forestry programme to source raw material from farmers.

Mind, this winner of the first rating has slipped to second place. While others caught up, it napped on its gains: this company has not invested in a lime kiln, which would dispose off the enormous 785 kg of lime sludge it generates in manufacturing one tonne of product. It has almost halved its water consumption, but the river Nagavalli -- where it sources water from and into which it discharges its waste -- has lost its water flow.

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