Elemental Chlorine-Free (ECF), pulp bleached with chlorine dioxide, continues to be the fastest growing segment in the world bleached chemical pulp (BCP) market. By the end of 1995, ECF manufacture will exceed 28.5 million tonnes per year, for a market share surpassing 40 percent. In all major pulp producing regions of the world, ECF demand is rising rapidly.
Much has been written about Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF), or pulps bleached without chlorine or chlorine dioxide. However, production is confined to the Northern European niche, and its share of world markets remains relatively small at only 7 percent.
Though TCF production will likely continue to grow in Scandinavia, it is far from certain whether TCF will develop into a serious market elsewhere. In contrast, current regulatory and market trends in North America and the rest of the world strongly suggest that ECF will dominate the BCP market.
The rhetoric surrounding the marketing of pulp and paper might seem to indicate that the demand for and growth of TCF pulp and paper products are overwhelming. But these claims do not stand up to scrutiny. For example [1,2]:
"... the problem today is that the number of TCF-pulp suppliers is limited which prevents many European paper producers from expanding their production of TCF papers...."
TCF production, now at an estimated 5 million tonnes, occupies a Northern European niche. Scandinavia alone accounts for more than 60 percent of this total. Worldwide, ECF manufacture dwarfs TCF. Having grown more than 5 times faster than TCF since 1990, ECF production will amount to 28.5 million tonnes per year by the end of 1995.
This overall trend applies in virtually every pulp producing and consuming region of the world.
Scandinavia and Western Europe
Nordic producers, principally in Sweden and Finland, were among the first to react to demand for TCF in the German-speaking regions of Europe. Some observers argue that, in response to this change, these countries quickly made the transition to TCF. The facts say otherwise. For example :
As the graph shows, Sweden and Finland did convert swiftly - but not to TCF. Rather, they shifted to ECF, which has captured over 70 percent of the Scandinavian market. In 1995, only ECF and TCF will be produced in Scandinavia - with ECF production two-and-a-half times that of TCF.
In Western Europe, the story is nearly identical. ECF commands two-thirds of the market, and its annual production of 3.3 million tonnes is more than twice that of TCF.
In North America, ECF is also growing rapidly into a dominant role.
ECF production in Canada totals 6.6 million tonnes, approximately 60 percent of all Canadian BCP production. In contrast, TCF shows no signs of meaningful growth; production will amount to only 60,000 tonnes in 1995.
In the US, ECF has taken off, and will reach 8.6 million tonnes per year in 1995, or 30 percent of US BCP production. Since 1990, ECF production in the US has increased by 1,600 percent. And 1995 production alone is a 43 percent jump over 1994. TCF production for 1995 lags far behind at barely 100,000 tonnes per year.
Environmental Impact & Eco-system Response
This statement conforms with the latest findings of the international research community, presented at the 2nd International Conference on Environmental Fate and Effects of Bleached Pulp Mill Effluents in Vancouver, BC, in November 1994.
Aquatic eco-systems downstream of North American pulp mills have recovered. The reasons for this rebound include increased chlorine dioxide substitution and secondary biological treatment of mill waste water. Since 1991, 11 states have lifted fish consumption advisories from 15 waterbodies downstream of US pulp mills. With these removals, state authorities have now cleared half of the 1990 total of 31 waterbodies with advisories downstream of pulp mills.
Similar ecosystem responses are occurring in Canada. Provincial governments of both British Columbia and Alberta have withdrawn advisories for mountain whitefish. As recently as January 1995, the BC government re-opened shell fish harvesting in some areas of the coast downstream of various pulp mills.
In North America, regulatory proposals such as the US EPA cluster rule favor wholesale adoption of ECF. The same is true in Ontario and Quebec, Canada, where current regulations strongly encourage conversion to ECF.
In British Columbia, where the government has implemented a "Zero AOX" requirement for 2002, the picture is less clear. The Ministry of the Environment, acknowledging the conclusions of the international research community, recently indicated its willingness to reconsider the regulation . The European Commission recently recommended ECF as Best Available Technology for the European pulp industry, recognizing that very low limits for AOX are hard to justify .
Speculation about the future markets for bleached chemical pulp continues to rage. ECF's current rate of growth assures its place as the dominant product in nearly every world market. TCF's potential for growth remains very much in question. Its future market development depends on surmounting a number of fundamental hurdles.
These hurdles include TCF market pulp quality and higher price; the apparent increased demand on limited forest resources by TCF manufacture; and its potential impact on paper recycling. In addition, and by far the most important, capital investment for retrofitting North American mills may, in fact, be prohibitively high - and with questionable, if any, benefit.
APPENDIX (ALL DATA IN MILLIONS OF TONNES)