The life of paper - a ray of hope - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

There are many misconceptions about the life of paper. It begins with trees being cut and ends with it becoming a waste.

“There’s a sentiment that the paper industry is destroying forest wealth – everyone, from media to banks and even governments are exhorting the citizen to reduce the use of paper in order to preserve the environment,” says PR Ray. With over 50 years of experience in the paper industry, Ray has been handling finished paper, its raw materials, like pulp and waste paper and now engaged in high-end paper conversion.

In this Sunday Column, Ray debunks a few popular myths

21 Feb 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha

All discussions in the social and general media, about the paper industry in India, currently, is filled with adverse comments, primarily centring around how this industry is destroying the forest wealth of the nation by cutting down trees to make paper and hence people should avoid using more paper, to preserve the forest wealth of the nation, to protect the environment.

Not the media alone, similar sentiments are being expressed by leading banks of the country, public service providers, like power suppliers, as also the government exhorting the citizens to reduce the use of paper in order to preserve the environment.

Undoubtedly, such observations, including from those in responsible positions, have a telling effect on the image of the paper industry as a whole, finally creating an unfavourable vibe and impacting the market adversely.

It, therefore, becomes essential to counter such disinformation, with correct inputs and re-establish the image of the paper industry in India.

The Fact
These unfounded allegations need to be countered and facts need to be brought to light for   projecting the correct Image and there could be no better beginning than to start with:

Raw Material Usage (Production Basis – Million Tons)

The table above establishes very explicitly that:
In overall production, use of wood has declined from 39% in 2000 to 25% in 2018 in absolute terms contrary to the allegation being floated about the destruction of forest by the paper industry.

Use of waste paper has increased to 58% presently, from 30% in 2000, nearly double in 18 years further reducing the dependence on wood to make paper, confirming the falsehood of the allegations.

All these have happened despite paper production in the country increasing drastically by 322% in last twenty years.

Wood Usage
No wood procured from designated forest; 90% of wood is sourced from social / farm forestry; and the paper industry-led forestry is helping use of barren lands and generating additional incomes for farmers, especially from those who are marginal.

Meanwhile overall forest coverage in India has grown

Contribution from the paper industry of not using wood from designated forest, must have also contributed to this growth, though difficult to quantify.

Waste paper usage
In last 18 years waste paper usage has increased from 31% to 58% of overall paper production.

In volume terms the increase is from 1.47-million tonnes to 9.15-million tonnes of paper per annum, are now being produced from waste paper, an increase of 622%, only in the space of eighteen years.

This increase has led to saving of 165-million trees a year, according to an estimate, in absolute terms.

This use of waste paper in paper making has also contributed towards oil, power, water and landfill savings. This usage of waste paper, in paper making is proudly comparable to any international standard:

This rate of waste paper usage has helped reduce garbage for landfill and incineration by about 4.8% annually, out of 62-million tonnes solid waste generated in the urban areas of the country.

Agro residue usage, though reducing, has helped in bringing down wood usage further.

Paper Vs Plastic

Plastic consumption in India:

24% that is 5.28-million tonnes of this total consumption is expected to be used in packaging by 2020.

79% plastic goes for landfill and will need 400 years to decompose, creating enormous environmental hazard.

Increased use of paper by just a tonne in packaging will help reduce the hazardous landfill by four meters.

Thus paper being more versatile, sustainable, and recyclable and environment friendly should be better suited as a plastic substitute.

Historical fact-sheet
An ideal image for the paper industry in India is nothing new. Till around 1970s the paper industry in India carried a lofty Image.

One recalls the image that mills like Titaghur Paper conveyed about the paper industry as a reliable supplier of a strategic product like paper for all governmental documents including post card, inland letter, stamp paper, and passport paper possibly conjuring an image of national service in a recently independent country.

Similar image of the paper industry as an aide to education got conveyed, when children were using exercise books made with paper from these mills.

The image of Sunlit Bond always conveyed the image of a classy writing material irrespective of the individual mill that supplied this paper.

Somehow, these early images got diluted in the course of achieving individual corporate goals.

Therefore, in view of current onslaught on the India paper industry, from vested quarters, revival of the lost image for the paper industry and ‘re-establishing’  that in the minds of the target public has become imperative for the interest of the welfare of this industry.

PR Ray

What is an image?
The image that we are talking about is not a visual or a picture, or a reflection and not a medical reporting either. It is – a mental picture or an impression creating a conception and held in common by the members of a group or a target public.

This picture or impression remains in the realm of perception. In this instance the perception or an idea people have in general about the paper industry in India and how it relates and communicates with its target public.

A good imagery perception among the target public will generate goodwill and create good market vibes. A negative one at that leads to opposite, creating difficulties in its dealings, including with the government, the users and the target public at large and giving credence to hearsay and false messages, as are now being carried now.

Essentials for image rebuilding: What does the paper industry in India need to do to rebuild the Image?

The paper industry has to identify the core values for the industry. It is a service to the nation in meeting with the requirements of a very strategic material and does that in a sustainable and responsible manner without causing harm to the   nation’s environment for the benefit of the future generation.

Lay down key goals to realise the core values. The paper industry caters to the country’s present all round paper requirements; produces the best quality paper in cost effective manner;  through social / farm forestry, it has increased sourcing of raw material in sustainable manner; increased use of recycled fibre in paper making; promotes innovation towards plastic replacement in packaging; and contribute towards growth of primary education in the country.

Highlight the Strength. It has the widest spread in the country; is an industry with solid knowledge base and robust technical capability to achieve key goals; has qualified manpower to run the industry successfully; instills the spirit of innovation within the industry; and provide adequate capacity to meet country’s paper requirement.

Manage the weakness
Intra industry bottlenecks are not the subject matter of discussion here. Rather those related to target public, essential for Image make up, are: building up reliability by pursuing long term objectives and sacrificing short-term windfalls; stop leaving market in the lurch; acknowledge the crisis situation and stand up at it by being transparent; build up long-term relationship with users and the target public; and build a system for uninterrupted dialogue - to and from - with the target public.

Role of the Indian paper industry in national life
Despite the setbacks the paper industry in India has suffered over the years and the brickbats being thrown at it, presently, this Industry in India is second to none in contributing to the nation’s welfare and the future growth.

Let us proudly declare our role as a:
Wealth builder to the nation. The industry generates revenue of Rs 60,000-crore. It contributes Rs 4,500-crore to the nation’s exchequer; and is capable of generating foreign exchange savings for the country, through import substitution.

Wealth Preserver to the Nation. It helps preserve forest wealth of the nation by not using wood from designated forest; by using 90% wood from social / farm forest for the paper that it makes; by bringing 1,25,000 hectares of land, annually to social / farm forestry; and by promoting optimal use of barren or unusable land for forestry.

Employment Provider to the Nation. It employs 5-lakh people in the industry, directly; provides indirect employment to 15-lakh in the industry; and generates livelihood of 7.2-crore man days annually in the agro / social forestry.

Garbage handler to the nation. The industry helps reduce garbage by 4.8% of overall solid waste generation in urban areas of the country and using same for production of fresh paper; and encourages higher recover of paper wastes from solid wastes.

Environment protector of the nation. It innovates constantly to replace harmful plastics, while promoting making of shopping bags, food and pharma packs, and drinking straw among others by paper. It also helps reduce hazardous e-waste.

Educator to the Nation. By 2025, country’s primary schools will cater to 24.4-million children requiring nearly 2.50-million tonnes of paper – the paper industry in the country will cater to this requirement, a major feather in the cap for this industry in promoting the cause of education.

These are envious multifaceted role for the paper industry in India, which very few can match. Only, they need to be projected in the right manner and on a sustained basis for building up the right Image for this industry.

Some Recent Efforts
The industry peers have made effort to  build up the image of the paper industry. Some of the efforts in the last year have been through social media postings conveying many of these messages; hosting Paper Day celebrations spread all over the country in unison; launching of the CPTA promotional film on the occasion of its centenary; and publishing the 100 years celebration volume of the history of CPTA.

But, these were just a drop in vast ocean. The scale needs to be far larger and the communication needs to be sustained, to produce a meaningful impact and counter the adverse baseless propaganda that this industry now faces.

Let us all be proud of our own might as one of the oldest industry in the country and confidently project our Image as a responsible contributor to the health and wealth of this nation, we call India.

Acknowledgement: The article first appeared in the Indian Pulp & Paper Technical Association (IPPTA) magazine, Issue no 2, Volume 32