By Øyvind Eggen
Paper and pulp production is usually associated with serious environmental damages and conflicts in Asia. PAPCO and Norske Skog's newsprint factory in Sing Buri seems to be the exception that proves the rule: The factory only uses return paper and has no discharges into water. Therefore, in theory, it does not cause environmental problems in its consumption and production.
Thailand's environmental demands towards foreign investors are rather strict. With regard to discharges from paper production, the demands are stricter than for most paper factories in Europe: no discharges into water are allowed. PAPCO, the owner of the factory, therefore leads the waste water into an evaporation plant. This consists of several dams (totally 1.400.000 m2), from which the waste water from the process evaporates after it has been cleaned.
Fish in the plant
The area which is used for the evaporation plant and the factory area was bought from private farmers before the factory was established in 1994, long before Norske Skog was involved in the project.
During the initial period, waste water was discharged straight into the river by the then Korean owners. When the local community complained, this was put to an end. Only later did the authorities prohibit water discharges into the river.
There is a lot of fish in the evaporation plants, and sometimes the local people fish in the dams, even though there are signs saying that the water is industrial waste, and that one must not catch fish there. But the fish has been analysed by the Health Ministry, and no remains of heavy metals were found.
- Personally, I am not certain that an evaporation plant like this is a good permanent solution. In the long term, toxic waste concentrations may build up. But this is not something that we have chosen ourselves, it is demanded by the authorities, says managing director Erik Stai. He continues to say that the factory is considering whether the water can be used for agricultural purposes. This is done by some other factories, but it is not yet realistic in this case.
"I think our activity will contribute to a higher percentage of return paper locally."
Managing director Erik Stai.
Environmental experts are not concerned
Experts on pollution from paper production whom NorWatch has talked to, do not seem concerned about the possibility of hazardous substance concentrations in the evaporation plant. In a normal process, the waste water will only contain organic material, fibres which will settle on the bottom of the dam. Possible hazardous remains will be covered by new material which settles as sediments. These bottom sediments can be quite easily removed after some time, it is simply dug up. Nor are the experts worried about people eating fish from the evaporation dams, or about using the water for agricultural purposes, on the condition that the water is tested for possible toxic substances.
A paper process uses large amounts of water. But according to the management, the factory only uses slightly more than 0.1% of the total water flow in the river during the dry season. If this is correct, there is little potential for conflicts with the farmers who also use the water. The factory uses a bit more water than Western paper factories, according to the Norwegian management, who says it will consider reducing the water consumption. If the factory is to be rebuilt in the future, the possibility of reducing the water consumption will be assessed, says manager Erik Stai.
There are hardly any emissions into the air from paper production.
The raw material used is recycled paper only, which is mainly bought from the USA. But in spite of the distance, it is claimed that the paper transport from the USA does not contribute much to CO2 emissions. This is because large volumes of goods is shipped from Thailand to North America, while little is sent the other way. The ships going from the USA to Thailand therefore have a lot of spare capacity, and they frequently sail with empty containers.
- Our aim is to use local raw material, but for the time being it is actually more expensive to purchase locally than to import from the USA, even when transport costs are considered. This is caused by the inefficiency of the paper collection systems in Thailand, and the fact that there is relatively little newsprint available for recycling. We will buy local return paper when the prices become more reasonable. I think our activity will contribute to a higher percentage of return paper locally, says manager Stai.
Norwatch Newsletter 12/99