Our target is to use water responsibly and that includes efforts to protect, maintain and monitor local water resources across our forestry, production and hydropower operations as well as during the transportation of our products.
Maintaining the quantity and quality
The waters that surround and run through forests are valuable habitats, and water protection has become increasingly integrated into sustainable forestry practices, standards and certifications over time. Today protecting water bodies in forestry is an integral part of the requirements laid down in forest certification standards such as FSC/PEFC as well as recognised practices for sustainable forest management.
We consistently apply best practices to protecting watercourses. Our approach is based on the comprehensive preservation of ecosystem services. We use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to store and update essential data and information on forests and waters. This allows us to apply specific measures that best reflect the local context.
We aim to share our expertise and utilise our own forest land to contribute to wider forestry-related research programmes, including the water protection. For example, we are currently working with the Natural Resources Institute Finland to better understand the potential of uneven-aged forest management in reducing water runoff and harmful erosion.
The transportation of raw materials and finished products places a stress on the environment. Wherever possible, we aim to reduce these impacts through optimised routing and by favouring rail and sea transportation as well as low-emission fuels.
We also apply rigorous requirements that apply to both specifications for vessels and containers and the loading machinery and practices we allow. This helps us to reduce the risk of impacts during transportation.
Water plays a key role in our production processes and hydropower generation, and the water we withdraw comes from rivers, lakes and groundwater sources.
In the recent years, we have been systematically modernising our hydropower plants, built mainly in the 1950s. Over the last ten years, this has led to improved production capacity making it possible to produce 15 percent more electricity with the same volume of water.
We use a considerable amount of water in its production processes, and constantly seek to minimise this load across the entire production chain.
We use water mainly in pulp and paper production. Water is everywhere in our paper and pulp processes and used for various purposes from fibre and chemical transportation to pulp preparation and dilution. We also use water to clean paper machines and other equipment, for process cooling, and to generate the steam that assists with the process.
We use EU level best available techniques (BAT) which we apply to our innovative closed-loop water systems.
These systems enable the recycling and reuse of water within pulp and paper processes, as well as the recovery of excess pulp fibres contained within wastewater. This allows water to be circulated several times in production process and cooling systems with only a small portion of the water ultimately leaving the process as effluent and being replaced with fresh water.
Water use and efficiency varies from mill to mill due to various end uses, grades, raw materials, processes and local conditions. Despite this, all of our mills have been closing down their water circuits year-on-year, and as a result we have reduced water withdrawal by abouthalf per ton of productionover the last 20 years.
One additional benefit of maximising water recycling and reuse is that it not only reduces the amount of fresh water withdrawn but also lowers final wastewater volumes and associated environmental risks.
Over the last 20 years, we have managed to reduce effluent organic load (measured using Chemical Oxygen Demand, COD) by more than half per ton of production. COD quantifies the amount of oxidisable pollutants found in wastewater and is a good measure of the effect an effluent will have on a receiving body of water.
Effluent from all of our pulp and paper mills is treated either in an external or internal wastewater treatment plant. A typical plant first uses gravity to separate suspended solids, and then biological treatment to convert biodegradable organic matter into simple substances and additional biomass which can be further used, for example, in energy generation or as fertiliser.
In most of our mills, this combined approach to treatment has proven to be efficient enough to remove most of our wastewater components.
A number of our mills are able to go even further, applying additional treatment steps in their processes such as filtration, oxidation and chemical treatment, all of these further reduce the final COD of effluents.
Our 2030 responsibility targets are influenced by many factors, among them being the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). When it comes to water, our responsibility targets all relate in some way to wastewater and we believe this is a key area where we can significantly reduce our impact.
Our targets focus on reducing effluent organic load (measured as COD) by 40% and wastewater volume by 30% compared to 2008. We also aim to use 100% recycled nutrients at our wastewater treatment plants by 2030.
To reach these challenging targets, we need to look beyond business as usual, testing ourselves to develop and apply new technologies. A number of trailblazing our sites are already demonstrating what’s possible, providing valuable learnings and exciting opportunities for us to consider as we aim to roll out improvements across our productions in the years to come.
This includes UPM Nordland in Germany and UPM Changshu in China. Already at the top of their class in terms of water withdrawal and COD load, they are piloting new solutions and technologies that enable water to be recycled back into processes after it’s released from wastewater treatment.
In Finland we are taking bold steps towards our 2030 target to use only recycled nutrients in our wastewater plants, taking process effluents from other industries and using them as biological agents. By removing these nutrients from waste water (both our own and that of others) we are able to reduce local eutrophication.
UPM Rauma has already achieved this target, and six other mills have been substituting conventional wastewater treatment nutrients with rejects from biogas plants or other industries.
Finally, our long-term vision of Waste Water Treatment Plant is to turn it into a Resource Recovery Plant. We are targeting to capture and recycle nutrients, reuse more and more water, and turn WWTPs from net power consumers into energy neutral or even energy positive service provider. In practice, we need to look at more energy efficient treatment methods and test new water technologies that would allow us to build the water treatment plant of the future.
Almost all of our production sites, as well as wood-sourcing and forestry operations, have a verified environmental management system in place.
We apply the international ISO 14001 environmental management system across most of our sites. In addition, all of our European pulp and paper mills as well as the Fray Bentos pulp mills in Uruguay and the Changshu paper mill in China are registered with the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS).
Both of these systems include the implementation of processes that reduce the risk of environmental incidents that impact water sources.
Measurement and monitoring of our water-related impacts and performance enable us to increase transparency, comply with regulatory conditions, and identify opportunities for improvement in our approach and management systems.
We undertake short and long-term water-related monitoring activities for a range of reasons, on an ongoing basis, both proactively and as part of our statutory obligations.
This includes regular monitoring and review of water emission levels in watercourses, together with relevant authorities. In some regions, we also run water studies to assess the potential harmful effects of effluent on fish and other aquatic organisms.
Other examples include our long-term hydrological monitoring on forest plantations and the water monitoring we conduct at our mills. Our mill sites apply a six-point scale assessment, including proactive observations, part of our Clean Run Guidelines. This process not only helps to identify breaches in permitting conditions, but also enables mills to spot near misses, deviations from established best-practices, and opportunities for continuous improvement.
At a broader level we also undertake water risk analysis at all of our pulp and paper mills, and report water stress risk exposure per mill.
Our most water-intensive production plants are located in areas where there is sufficient water available, and our forest plantations are located in areas where water is not a limiting resource. This means there is enough water for the local communities.