Pulp and Paper Mining: How Do We Balance Society’s Necessities With the Environment’s?
In Howe Sound, British Columbia, the harsh pollution spilled into its waters by the pulp mining industry has caused it great damage. Once a prosperous environment where marine life thrived, “the seabed near the Britannia Beach mine [has since been] described as a moonscape by divers who went down looking for marine life after the mine closed in 1974. They couldn’t even find algae” (Globe and Mail). Due to excessive amounts of sulphate poured into their waters, Howe Sound’s ecosystem was left barren and its many fishing industries left broke. “It seemed like [the marine life] was gone forever several decades ago when the cumulative impact of pollution from pulp mills and acid drainage from an abandoned copper mine left the waters of Howe Sound largely lifeless” (Globe and Mail).
It wasn’t until recently in 2011 that Howe Sound saw the reintroduction of salmon into their waters, followed gradually by crab and prawn populations due to concentrated efforts to restore the marine life. Not only did the Howe Sound Pulp and Paper began a $1.3-billion renewal process to restore marine frequency in the waters, but the provincial government has also donated large sums of money to its rehabilitation.
The particular chemical processes used in paper and pulp mining happen to be particularly damaging if not done correctly. Numerous emissions can be emitted and can cause varying effects. Environment Canada’s Pulp and Paper resources make certain notes on the chemical process of pulp and paper mining:
In the chemical process, wood chips and sawdust are cooked by using an aqueous solution of chemical. This process results in the separation of cellulose fibre from the wood by dissolving the lignin that binds the fibres together. The remaining solution (chemical and lignin) is then recycled to recuperate the chemicals. This is achieved by burning the chemical and lignin mixture (black liquor) to produce energy (recovery boiler) with the remaining residue treated in a caustic plant.
In both processes, the pulp could be washed or bleached depending on its final use. In most mills, the gas produced by the chemical process and washing are collected and burned. The power and recovery boilers generate the steam to meet all the requirements of the mill. The age, technology and emission controls of the boiler will determine the amount of air emissions generated by the mill.
The emissions from the pulp mill vary depending on the process (mechanical or chemical) and as mentioned above, will be determined by the age and technology used. Commonly, these emissions are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Particulate Matter(PM10 and PM2.5), Sulphur Oxides (SOx), Nitogen Oxides (NOx), H2S, Cl2, ClO2, methanol, acrolein, acetaldehyde or formaldehyde.
It is true that many chemical processes taking place in the world are damaging ecosystems beyond repair. Yet many of the processes taking place are necessary to our society and economy. According to Environment Canada, “the forest industry is [very] important [in terms of the Canadian economy]. It contributes up to 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP), and over $34 billion in exports from Canada. Canada is the world's largest exporter of market pulp and newsprint and as a result, over 57,500 direct jobs (excluding wood products) and 250,000 indirect jobs have been created” (Pulp and Paper, para. 1). How do we balance our society’s needs (economy-wise as well as product-wise) with the environment’s needs?
This is precisely the question that Howe Sound has been trying to answer over the last couple of years. With the rehabilitation of marine life to North America’s southernmost fjord, the locals are obviously hesitant reintroducing pulp mining processes or any industries that could possibly permanently damage the environment. And with reason.
In Howe Sound’s case, the environment has slowly come back from its fragile state. Is it fair to subject that ecosystem to more harsh treatment? What right do we have to continuously torture (which is technically what we are doing) an environment and its organisms for our own gain? Where is the ethicality in killing ecosystems for our own profit? There is none. It is a barbaric practice that the human race continues to execute all around the world. We are exhausting our resources and killing millions of species in the process. In fact, “between 10,000 and 100,000 species are becoming extinct each year” (WWF Global). It’s just sad.
In what ways can we strive to counteract decades of pollution to our ecosystems? How would we go about maintaining these environments without also limiting our economic potential? Can you suggest innovative ways in which we can cut back on global paper consumption in the future?
Please note for your happiness: “The latest – and single biggest – sign of revival [in Howe Sound] came when a humpback whale travelled up the fjord, breaching along the way” (Globe and Mail).
Humpback whale found in British Columbia
I just had to make sure everyone knew the part about the whale; way too cute! Thanks dudes, be set for a new post coming soon,