, Volume 12, Issue 7, pp 521-528
Date: 16 Aug 2006

Life cycle assessment of printing and writing paper produced in Portugal

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Abstract

Goal, Scope and Background

The environmental sustainability is one of the current priorities of the Portuguese pulp and paper industry. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was the methodology chosen to evaluate the sustainability of the printing and writing paper production activity. This paper grade represents about 60% of the total production of paper in Portugal and its production is expected to increase in the near future. The main goal of this study was to assess the potential environmental impacts associated with the entire life cycle of the printing and writing paper produced in Portugal from Eucalyptus globulus pulp and consumed in Germany, in order to identify the processes with the largest environmental impacts. Another goal of this study was to evaluate the effect on the potential environmental impacts of changing the market where the Portuguese printing and writing paper is consumed: German market vs. Portuguese market.

Methods

The main stages considered in this study were: forestry, pulp production, paper production, paper distribution, and paper final disposal. Transports and production of chemicals, fuels and energy in the grid were also included in these stages. Whenever possible and feasible, average or typical data from industry were collected. The remaining data were obtained from the literature and specialised databases. A quantitative impact assessment was performed for five impact categories: global warming over 100 years, acidification, eutrophication, non-renewable resource depletion and photochemical oxidant formation.

Results

In the German market scenario, the paper production stage was a remarkable hot spot for air emissions (non-renewable CO2, NOx and SO2) and for non-renewable energy consumption, and, consequently, for the impact categories that consider these parameters: global warming, acidification and non-renewable resource depletion. These important environmental impacts are due to the energy requirements in the printing and writing paper production process, which are fulfilled by on-site fuel oil burning and consumption of electricity from the national grid, which is mostly based on the use of fossil fuels. The pulp production stage was identified as the largest contributor to water emissions (COD and AOX) and to eutrophication. Considering that energy consumed by the pulp production processes comes from renewable fuels, this stage was also the most contributing to renewable energy consumption.

Discussion

The paper distribution stage showed an important contribution to NOx emissions, which, however, did not result in a major contribution to acidification or eutrophication. The final disposal stage was the main contributor to the photochemical oxidant formation potential due to CH4 emissions from wastepaper landfilling. On the other hand, paper consumption in Portugal was environmentally more favourable than in Germany for the parameters/impact categories where the paper distribution stage has a significant contribution (non-renewable CO2, NOx, non-renewable energy consumption, acidification, eutrophication and non-renewable resource depletion) due to shorter distances needed to deliver paper to the consumers. For the remaining parameters/impact categories, the increase observed in the final disposal stage in the Portuguese market was preponderant, and resulted from the existence of significant differences in the final disposal alternatives in the analysed markets (recycling dominates in Germany, whereas landfilling dominates in Portugal).

Conclusions

The pulp and paper production stages were found to be of significance for almost all of the inventory parameters as well as for the impact assessment categories. The paper distribution and the final disposal stages were only of importance for some of the inventory parameters and some of the impact categories. The forestry stage played a minor role in the environmental impacts generated during the paper life cycle. The consumption of paper in Portugal led to a decrease in the environmental burdens of the paper distribution stage, but to an increase in the environmental burdens of the final disposal stage, when compared with the consumption of paper in Germany.

Recommendations and Perspectives

This study provides useful information that can assist the pulp and paper industry in the planning of future investments leading to an increase in its sustainability.

The results of inventory analysis and impact assessment show the processes that play an important role in each impact category, which allow the industry to improve its environmental performance, making changes not only in the production process itself, but also in the treatment of flue gases and liquid effluents. Besides that concern regarding pollution prevention, other issues with relevance to the context of sustainability, such as the energy consumption, can also be dealt with.