India represents an island of growth for paper industry

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Updated: Aug 19, 2016 8:36 AM

The paper industry, with an estimated turnover of more than R40,000 crore, is believed to have an adverse impact on environment.

media in indiaThe paper industry is often perceived as having an adverse impact on the environment as it uses wood as raw material. (Reuters)

The paper industry, with an estimated turnover of more than R40,000 crore, is believed to have an adverse impact on environment. Indian Paper Manufacturers Association (IPMA) has been campaigning for altering the perception of the industry. IPMA president Sanjay Singh spoke to Sandip Das on challenges faced by paper manufacturers in dealing with environmental concerns as well as increasing consumption in the face of growing demand for going ‘paperless’ across institutions. Excerpts:

The paper industry is often perceived as having an adverse impact on the environment as it uses wood as raw material.

There is no truth in the argument that claims ‘use less paper and save the environment’. A myth has been perpetuated that the paper industry destroys forests. The paper industry is not cutting forests. As opposed to the perception, it has been encouraging growing of trees by farmers on degraded land for sourcing wood. Of the total demand for wood by the paper industry, around 90% is sourced from this industry driven agro-forestry. In fact, the paper industry is growing more trees than what it is cutting and is wood-positive.

Growing trees by the paper industry is leading to absorption of carbon dioxide and helping the cause of mitigating climate change. The industry has also earned carbon credits for this agro-forestry initiative. What is significant to note is that young trees grown by the industry absorb more carbon dioxide than the aged ones.

What about sustainability of raw material supply for the paper industry which has witnessed a steady growth in demand during the last decade or so?

Few industries can match the sustainability that paper offers. It is fully biodegradable and doesn’t cause any impact on the environment. Moreover, it is made from resources which are renewable and can be easily regenerated. The paper industry is not only conserving the environment, but also regenerating natural resources. Through agro-forestry, more than one million hectare of land has turned green and millions of jobs in rural India have been created. Not only that, the paper industry recycles most of the waste paper that is generated. The industry also recycles agricultural waste which otherwise would have been burnt in the fields.

But manufacturing of paper is also a water and energy intensive process.

Manufacturing of paper is water and energy intensive, but over the years the paper industry has taken significant leaps in technological upgrade, process optimisation and introduction of better practices to minimise the usage of energy and water. The paper industry has managed to bring down its energy consumption by about 20% in the last five years. Integrated paper mills in India generate 60% of the power they use by utilising the black liquor from the pulping process. On the water front, a few years ago, we used to consume 200 cubic metres of water to produce a tonne of paper. Now, the integrated mills have reduced that to 50 cubic metres. Efforts are on to bring it further down to 40 cubic metres.

How is the paper industry gearing up to stay relevant in a world which is increasingly using IT network or paperless approach?

Contrary to popular perception, paper is not a sunset industry, but a sunrise industry in India with a bright future. An investment of over R25,000 crore in the last five years in capacity creation and technology upgrade has supported the drive to produce paper which matches world-class standards to meet the growing needs. While the paper industry has been witnessing declining demand in the developed markets in view of the increased use of information technology, India represents an island of growth for the industry. Expanding middle class, rise in disposable incomes and exposure to international trends are leading to lifestyle changes, which in turn are providing a fillip to consumption of paper in India.

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