Paper and the environment revisited: ECF bleaching

I’ve posted at various times about paper, environmental impact, and the relationship between publishing and natural capital. I’ve mentioned a number of times that discussion of the issues often proves simplistic because of a reductive focus on carbon emissions, as opposed to a rounded treatment on such matters as biodiversity, conservation, and ecological systems. And, as a corollary, I’ve commented on the need for scientific and technical information in a form that non-specialists can understand.

From time to time I do a search, usually without great success, for information on the ecological impact of bleaching, and the use of chlorine, during the paper-making process. So I was interested to come across a report on ECF bleaching, a process that uses chlorine dioxide. (ECF stands for ‘elemental chlorine-free’.)

The report is entitled ECF: the sustainable technology and bears the strap line ‘Quality paper / clean environment’. It’s published by an organisation called the Alliance for Environmental Technology (AET). According to the organisation’s website, AET ‘is an international association of chemical manufacturers dedicated to improving the environmental performance of the pulp and paper industry’. The content includes a consideration of Minimum Impact Manufacturing, eco-system recovery, and a case study from Maine. The PDF is here.

The report makes arresting and strong claims in support of ECF. For example: ‘In combination with enhanced pulping strategies, ECF manufacturing has a higher yield, using the least amount of wood compared to other bleaching processes. And…ECF is compatible with, and at the leading edge of, closed loop strategies for minimizing wastewater from bleaching. Along with efficient wastewater treatment, closed loop strategies are providing optimal solutions for protecting and sustaining the receiving water ecosystem’.

The publication isn’t brilliantly written. For example, I can find no date of publication. There’s no table of contents. Though the report includes some quantitative information — Praise be! Public debate of such issues is often limited to the qualitative — the sources of data, and the methods by which they have been generated, are unclear. I would urge AET to improve the editorial quality of its publications.

I also hope that AET restore a link from the ‘About us‘ page of its website so that we can see which companies belong to the alliance.

Nevertheless, I welcome the report. I found it informative and thought-provoking. It isn’t, and doesn’t purport to be, a balanced argument: advocacy of ECF is a priority for AET. As always on debates in the area of paper, printing, and ink, I will look for counter-weights. But it’s certainly an interesting contribution.



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