Water is one of our planet's key natural resources and essential to sustain life on Earth. It is also crucial for our operations. We interact with water resources and water cycles in our forests, plantations and when producing energy, pulp and paper. High-quality fresh water is a precondition for, for example, high-quality paper products.
Circular economy is in the core of UPM’s Biofore strategy and guides the company to use resources efficiently and responsibly to produce more with less. This means that we have to, within the given resources, innovate and come up with new uses for materials and, thus, to create value to UPM’s products and services. Sustainable water use is one of UPM’s core responsibility principles. The company aims to minimise the impacts of its operations on local water resources and to safeguard the natural water cycle in forests. It also aims to use less and less water in its processes. Not only because it is environmentally responsible but also for economic reasons – to decreases the use of electricity, chemicals and heat energy.
Biofore Share and Care program reflects UPM’s commitment to building a sustainable, innovation-driven future by sharing expertise and assets for causes the company cares about. One of the four focus areas of this program is responsible water use. Hence UPM collaborates with several parties to contribute to a change for better. For example, UPM operates in the CEO Water Mandate program that works for improving the worldwide water crisis, participates in the Local Waters school project in Finland, and cooperates with WWF Poland to restore the rivers in Poland. In addition, UPM has for some years already worked together with Baltic Sea Action Group to improve the ecological state of the Baltic Sea.
Commitment to the Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea Action Group (BSAG, officially called The Foundation for Living Baltic Sea) is an independent, non-profit foundation established in 2008 and with a home base in Finland. The mission of BSAG is to revive the ecological state of the entire Baltic Sea. BSAG connects important players to gain the highest possible benefits to protect the Baltic Sea. The foundation is also a major advocate of circular economy. UPM has already a long history of supporting this foundation through donations and various commitments. The latest commitment is related to the use of nutrients: UPM aims to use only recycled nutrients at its biological waste water treatment plants by 2030. The target is challenging, but co-operation with BSAG and other players enables achieving it.
How does our commitment relate to improving the state of Baltic Sea?
UPM has biological waste water treatment plants next to its paper and pulp mills. When treating waste water, phosphorus and nitrogen are added to the process to remove dissolved contaminants and organic compounds before releasing the waste water back into watercourses. Without proper treatment the organic substances left in waste water cause eutrophication and harm to the natural biodiversity in the watercourses. Besides this cleansing property, phosphorus is a vital nutrient also in food production, but according to the latest forecast it will run out within the next 50‒150 years. As the UN states, a 60% growth in food production is a prerequisite in order to manage population growth. Without recycling phosphorus this will not be achieved. Nitrogen, on the other hand, can be bound from the atmosphere but it requires a lot of energy.
At the moment, UPM is seeking for new sources nearby the pulp and paper mills to get the needed nutrients. Such sources could be, for example, the side streams or waste waters from other industries. UPM Rauma uses already today only recycled nutrients. Also other paper and pulp mills in Finland aim to pilot this summer Rauma’s experiences and continue seeking for new nutrient sources for test use.
One could say that recycling nutrients is in the core of circular economy!
Photograph: Janne Gröning