Making the most of water

​Metsä Board’s mills are located in the most water rich areas in the world. Still we use our water resources efficiently.
9/2016 TEXT: TYTTI HÄMÄLÄINEN, PHOTOS: METSÄ GROUP

​Our planet is a blue planet: over 70 per cent of it is covered by the sea, and of all the water 97 per cent is in the oceans. The remaining 3 per cent is fresh water, mostly tied up in glaciers and permanent snow.

Then there’s Finland and Sweden with some 146,000 lakes (with size over 1 hectare) and a number of rivers with fresh water. By these lakes and rivers are also Metsä Board’s mills: Throughout the centuries, board mills have been built by fresh water as it’s very essential in the production process – even nowadays.

“In the current process water keeps logs fresh, it helps to separate wood fibres for the paperboard production process, and it carries these fibres to different stages of the production process. Water is also needed for cleaning, cooling, and in smaller quantities for steam generation production,” explains Soili Hietanen, VP of Metsä Board’s sustainability and energy

As opposed to other areas of the world, there is plenty of fresh water in Finland and Sweden. According to for example WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development), the Nordics are the world’s most water rich areas.

“Both pulp and boardmaking are water intensive processes. For example in 2015, Metsä Board used 105 million cubic meters of water of which 99 per cent was surface waters from rivers and lakes. But even though there is water by our mills, water is recycled effectively because it minimises wastewater emissions and saves energy. These have positive impact on the climate,” says Hietanen.

 
 

​Reaching targets

Metsä Board isn’t resting on its laurels but has set targets for reducing water use. The numbers are impressive: Since 2010, Metsä Board has reduced the use of process water by 16 per cent – this is 1 per cent from the target to be achieved by 2020. Water use is also monitored by the government by strict environmental permits set for each mill.

"Predicting the future, I’d say we are moving towards more closed water cycles. For example we have great plans for our Äänekoski mill. But at the same time I must highlight that even the older mills can be efficient: our oldest mill Tako is a great benchmark in Tampere city centre.”

Some of Metsä Board’s mills are integrates (the board and pulp mills are on the same site) where the efficiencies can be further enhanced. Soili Hietanen gives an example: “Husum mill is a big integrate where the pulp mill delivers wet pulp to the board mill, in other words, a part of the board mill’s water comes from the pulp mill. There’s no need for drying the pulp before using it.”

Drinking from the same lake

What happens to the water that cannot be reused? Mills have effluent treatment plants where water is carefully purified before returned to the nature.

“The percentages of recycled and reused water vary from mill to mill, mainly depending on process quality requirements and local water conditions.”

But the water from the effluent treatment plants is clean, Hietanen knows:
“Near the Äänekoski mill, the water is released back to the lake where we go swimming from the mills’ club house. And from the same upstream is where the Finnish capital area gets its drinking water. As you can guess, the water is very carefully analysed and monitored by authorities.”

But who knew that the sludge from the effluent treatment plants is utilised as energy? The boardmaking process is full of side streams, efficiencies and synergies which all count in the big picture being the best examples on circular economy.

Hietanen mentions one more aspect on how Metsä Board’s process is water efficient: because there is so much rainfall in Finland (annual precipitation is between 600 and 700 mm) forests need no watering. Forests are also very important in the hydrologic system, they act like a giant sponges filtering and recycling water.

“Every step of our process is carefully considered. From the above it’s easy to make the connection to the UN’s sustainable development goal no 6 which is about ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation. We are committed to the UN’s Global Goals.”

 

​The United Nations has set Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs in short – that are jointly agreed large-scale global commitments. They determine the targets and actions for world's development for the next 15 years. Also Metsä Board's operations support these goals. In this article series you can read about the targets that are most linked to Metsä Board.

Read also how Metsä Group's activities support reaching the UN​ Sustainable ​Development Goals.

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