Why does Mondi top WWF's global rating tool for paper companies?

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Why does Mondi top WWF's global rating tool for paper companies?

December 12, 2010 - 14:00
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BRUSSELS, Dec. 13, 2010 (RISI) -In part 1 of a two part series, Graeme Rodden, Executive Editor of Pulp & Paper International, examines why Mondi is at WWF's top of the tree when it comes to evironmental practice in pulp and paper.

Earlier this year, Mondi was rated the Number 1 company in the new World Wildlife Fund (WWF) voluntary rating tool for paper companies to report on their global ecological footprint.

Criteria studied included use of recycled fiber, fiber coming from well-managed forests, energy use and CO2emissions, water use and liquid waste emissions.

In South Africa, where water and renewable energy sources are at a premium, and where Mondi has its roots and operates pulp, paper and packaging mills across the country, how did the company achieve such a high rating? (N.B. The WWF rating is for Mondi worldwide. This article will concentrate on Mondi's South African operations.)

Gladys Naylor is environmental manager, South Africa Division. She says that Mondi is delighted with the recognition. "Until the process was completed, we did not realize that we would receive a Number 1 rating. We were confident we would score well, but the No. 1 rating came as a welcome surprise.

"We were a volunteer in the project and decided to participate to promote transparency and reinforce our commitment to continuous improvement in our performance."

Lora Rossler, corporate affairs manager, Group and South Africa Division, adds, "We work hard at improving practices at Mondi. "We don't go looking for accolades. We are on the road to continuous improvement and this third party validation is very encouraging."

All of Mondi’s owned and managed plantations are FSC certified

The key issues

As can be expected, the key issues Mondi faces are water, energy and fiber. Water is something that the company needs to engage in more especially if one looks at rainfall patterns that are accompanying climate change, says Naylor.

In South Africa, water is a precious commodity. Mondi has already been in discussion with the government over water licenses. The company has focused on delineating wetland (riparian) zones and creating a plantation-free "buffer zone" around riparian areas (close to a river, stream or lake) and wetlands; through these initiatives Mondi is managing to conserve water resources and associated biodiversity in its South African plantations.

Mondi embarked on a study to evaluate the state of wetlands on its properties; this study was conducted by independent experts from the Mondi Wetland Programme. Mondi is one of the wetlands stewards in the country and the work focused on an assessment of the extent and health of the wetland areas on the plantation forestry land it manages and recommendations for improved management (such as ways to use fire as a management tool) are being made in each instance for specific wetlands while an overall picture of the state of Mondi's wetlands will be gained.

Naylor notes that Mondi "is committed to responsible stewardship and practices" and the recent award bears that out. However, water will become an ever more important issue as times goes on and demand increases. As a big consumer, Mondi will be in the public spotlight.

Naylor adds that it is a work in progress but proof of how efficient the company is can be seen by the fact that Australia and New Zealand are looking at how Mondi manages its plantations from a water issue.

At the mill level, the Merebank mill in Durban, has eliminated almost all potable water from its pulp and paper making processes, with only boiler feedwater making use of it and investigations are currently underway to replace this remaining potable water too.

In terms of energy, in South Africa, Mondi energy supply is mostly coal-based generation and it realizes it needs to minimize its carbon footprint. Ron Traill, divisional CEO, notes that an energy crunch hit South Africa a couple of years ago and he does not see it abating anytime soon. The newsprint mill at Merebank (Mondi Shanduka Newsprint) uses TMP in its furnish. As the process is a high power user, Traill says plans are developing to see how to become more energy self-sufficient, including using more secondary fiber.

At the Richards Bay pulp and containerboard mill, northeast of Durban, Traill says the company is examining the possibility of becoming a net exporter of power.

The numbers
The South Africa Division operates an uncoated fine paper mill at Merebank with the capacity to produce 400,000 tonnes/yr; a containerboard mill at Richard Bay producing 250,000 tonnes/yr as well as a pulp mill on site making 700,000 tonnes/yr.
Mondi Packaging South Africa collects more than 400,000 tonnes/yr of recycled fiber and produces 400,000 tonnes/yr of containerboard and cartonboard grades. It also produces corrugated packaging plants and rigid plastics packaging at 14 sites around the country.
Shanduka Newsprint produces 230,000 tonnes/yr of newsprint and directory paper at Merebank.

Developing a collection system

Recycling in South Africa is still a work in progress. Mondi currently uses approximately 100,000 tonnes/yr at the Merebank mill. It also uses secondary fiber at its packaging mills. At Merebank it's a mix of OMG and ONP. At the packaging mills, it's OCC as well as other grades.

"Accessibility is still a challenge," Naylor says. "We'd like to use more."

Among the problems the company faces are lack of infrastructure and the long distances between the country's main cities. Mondi's recycling division is in discussion with local governments to help establish systems that would separate all recyclables at source including recycled fiber. Materials recycling facilities are a possibility.

"We are working with Durban in some areas of the city," Naylor adds. "There is no uniform policy across South Africa now, but a national waste management strategy is being developed. This strategy is important in the drive to secure more recycled fiber in South Africa."

Have a SEAT
Mondi’s Socio-Economic Assessment Tool (SEAT) is used to help the company reach social agreements with host communities, improve technology and update its technology base. In South Africa, Naylor explains that the SEAT process gives the company the perspectives of the local stakeholders. That helps to set priorities and develop plans that are community specific. Topics vary from education to the environment to HIV/AIDS.

The company would like more access to secondary fiber. As noted, at Mondi Shanduka Newsprint, it would complement programs to reduce energy use. Approximately 65% of Mondi Shanduka Newsprint's current recycled fiber mix is derived from pre-consumer sources where the recovery rate is already in excess of 95%. Much of the post-consumer is landfilled because adequate separation and collections systems are not in place.

One of the key issues that Mondi faces and one that also ties into the water and recycling issues is its fiber supply.

Although the South African fiber basket is adequate to meet the forest products industry needs, there is still a great need to optimize forest resources. In the future, the food versus fiber issue could grow. The government would not want forest plantations taking up room where food crops could be planted. Accessing more recycled fiber would be one way to provide additional fiber resources to the industry.

To develop its forest practices prior to the implementation of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, Mondi looked "far and wide". Brazil in particular had many similarities including social needs. Mondi adopted FSC across its owned and managed plantations in order to ensure responsible forestry management practices. Since the political transformation in South Africa, land claims are something that Mondi is committed to addressing. In 2009, in a first for the forest industry, nine claims were settled.