Using water responsibly

See Key material issues – Water, for more information.

Returning water to the environment

Across the group, in 2018, we extracted 287.68 million m3 of water. However, our total water consumption is lower than the amount extracted would indicate, because we return a high percentage of the water we use back to the environment―95% of water extracted was returned to the environment. Water that is ‘consumed’ in our operations (approximately 5%), is primarily water lost to the environment due to evaporation in the paper drying process and a small amount of moisture contained in our finished products.

Most of the water used in our operations is drawn from surface water in the form of lakes and rivers, with small amounts of groundwater and municipal water used. All our mills use and treat water in accordance with comprehensive environmental permits. Generally, water is treated by the mill and then returned to the same primary sources from which it was drawn. The exception is Saiccor Mill where water is drawn from the Umkomaas River and released into the Indian Ocean via a 6.5 km pipeline.

Tugela Mill | Image
Tugela Mill

Total water withdrawal by source (m3/a)1

Total water withdrawal by source (m3/a) | Graph

1 Total water withdrawal includes water drawn for all purposes: water to process, water to communities, cooling water and third parties etc.


Across the group, there was a slight increase in total water withdrawal. Surface water abstraction increased in SEU, due largely to increased production at Kirkniemi Mill. In SNA, surface water usage increased at Cloquet Mill but was offset by a decrease in municipal water usage at the same mill, as well as at Westbrook Mill. In SSA, surface water withdrawal increased slightly. This was attributable mainly to Saiccor Mill, where the speciality grades have a greater requirement for pulp cleanliness and consequently, higher water demand.

Specific process water extracted (m3/adt)2

Specific process water extracted (m<sup>3</sup>/adt)<sup>2</sup> | Graph

2 Process water extracted and effluent discharged excludes non-contact cooling water for Europe and North America.


Across the group, there was a slight increase. In SEU, there was a small increase attributable to the following: water circuit problems with the paper machines at Alfeld Mill, water circuit problems in Gratkorn Mill’s pulp recovery process, the start-up of PM6 at Maastricht Mill and new product trials at Stockstadt Mill. In SNA, there was a slight overall increase driven by reduced paper mill production at Somerset Mill due to the upgrade of PM1. Westbrook Mill also showed a slight decrease in specific water usage, do in most part to a production increase. In SSA, there was a decrease at Stanger and Tugela Mills (see Planet – Reducing water usage at Tugela Mill).

Biodispersion at Saiccor Mill

The biodispersion value represents the chemical oxygen demand (COD) tested at the margin of the mixing zone in the marine environment. It is described as a 40 metres radius along the length of the pipeline. This mixing zone is defined and permitted by the authorities in the Mills Coastal Waters Discharge Permit. The pipeline contains 58 diffusers (over a distance of 750 metres), designed to aid the dispersion of the effluent to meet the Coastal Water Quality Guidelines, at the 40 metres distance. The biodispersion value for COD is more representative of the environmental impact of the wastewater.

The CSIR has been evaluating the environmental impact at Saiccor Mill, since 1956 through their annual marine outfall surveys. This monitoring programme has produced 74 scientific reports over this period. The findings from this long-term monitoring programme, have shown that the wastewater discharge, comprising approximately 98% freshwater, does not harm the marine environment and that biodiversity is being maintained.

These findings have led to the conditions of the discharge permit being amended to stipulate that the marine outfall surveys should take place every two years. In 2017, the scope of the programme was extended to include the monitoring and measurement of the biodispersion value. This additional monitoring will assist the CSIR with providing independent verification of the mill’s compliance against the limits of the legal discharge permit and coastal water quality guidelines.

The focus for Saiccor Mill will continue to remain on the actual impact analysis, and further amendments to the monitoring programme will continue to be made, to ensure it remains aligned to international best practice and technological advances.

Water and effluent testing are routinely conducted at all mill sites. Water management is included in our operational environmental management plans, which are reviewed and updated annually.

Managing a scarce resource

While water is not a scarce resource in all regions, in 2018, the World Resources Institute (WRI) pointed out that more than a billion people currently live in water-scarce regions, and as many as 3.5 billion could experience water scarcity by 20251.

The WRI has published a map showing the average exposure of water users in each country to baseline water stress, the ratio of total withdrawals to total renewable supply in a given area2. Levels of water stress for South Africa where our plantations are situated and Belgium, where Lanaken Mill is situated, they are indicated as high. While the same map indicates water stress levels in the USA as medium to high, more detailed maps show that the specific areas in which our mills are located do not suffer from water stress. (


Saiccor Mill

Belgium: Lanaken Mill’s water usage

Lanaken Mill is located along the Albert Canal in Belgium. Since 1967, the mill has been licensed by the relevant national authority, nv De Scheepvaart, to source the required water from the canal for utilisation at the facility. The mill communicates regularly with the authorities and should any change to water usage be anticipated, permission is requested in advance. The mill actively manages groundwater utilisation, the shipping facilities along the canal and water discharge.

In 2018, Lanaken Mill used approximately 12.3 million m3 from the canal and 180,000 m3 of groundwater. In the same year, 12.5 million m3 of water was returned to the canal. The quality of water discharge is monitored daily by Sappi, periodically controlled by authorities on site or at various locations throughout the canal, and reported on annually as part of Sappi ́s environmental reporting requirements. In addition, the mill continually implements projects to reduce water requirements or encourage water re-utilisation.

To prepare for increased production capacity through the ongoing rebuild project of PM8 at Lanaken Mill, in 2018 the anaerobic wastewater treatment plant was expanded and upgraded. This process is in the final stages with completion expected in December 2018.

The fact that Albert Canal becomes the source of drinking water for the city of Antwerp, 100 km downstream from the mill, highlights the mill’s high standards of water discharge quality.

Understanding the impact of water withdrawal on the river and estuary at Saiccor Mill

In terms of compliance to its water use licence, Saiccor Mill has commissioned an independent specialist to undertake annual estuarine health surveys of the Umkomaas estuary on which the mill is situated. In addition to these annual surveys, periodic low flow studies are also undertaken during drought periods when it is anticipated that the impact of freshwater removal from this system would be at its greatest. These studies have been conducted by Marine and Estuarine Research (MER) since 1998 and various physico-chemical and biological indicators to assess estuarine health are used. These studies are submitted annually to the responsible authority and are also peer reviewed by an independent specialist. To date MER has issued 45 reports detailing the results of their studies of Saiccor Mill’s Estuary Monitoring Programme. In August 2018, MER summarised their findings, which revealed that whilst short to medium term changes do occur in response to low freshwater input during low flow periods, the estuary remains in a good ecological state.

South Africa: Water and our plantations

Our plantations have both positive and negative impacts on the environment. One of the negative impacts is that they generally do use more water than grasslands. However, on a national scale the amount of water they generally absorb is relatively small―about 3% of available resources―but this varies considerably from place to place and during different times of the year. To put this into context, irrigated agriculture uses approximately 60% of South Africa’s available water resources.

Starfish | Image

Due to perceptions about forestry’s high use of water, the South Africa government has placed serious restrictions on forestry expansions. We believe this is misguided, based on the following:

  • As the only designated streamflow reduction activity, plantation forestry is not irrigated, but plantations pay for the water they use (based on streamflow reduction per sub-catchment)
  • Our trees are planted away from riparian zones, thereby decreasing the amount of water used
  • The quality of water emanating from afforested catchments is generally good and is much better than most other forms of agriculture, and
  • Though difficult to calculate, the value added to the water we use compares very favourably with other forms of land use―especially because forestry uses land that has few other economic options for use.

Reducing water usage at Tugela Mill

High demand for a high-performance fluting grade, UltraFlute produced at Tugela Mill, increased the internal requirements for high quality neutral sulfite semi-chemical (NSCC) pulp from the semi-chemical cooking process. With the assistance of the Sappi Technology Centre, the mill embarked on multiple projects to improve the washing in the pulp plant and ensure quality pulp transfer to the paper machine.

The results led to modifications to the washing stages and filtrate system that was contrary to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) design. However, the end result significantly improved pulp quality. Further improvements made in the pulp plant included the reuse of process water and the introduction of closed loop Seal water systems. These initiatives not only reduced water consumption, but also yielded some energy savings.


The cleaner pulp to the paper machine had a direct impact on the mill’s final effluent chemical oxygen demand (COD), reducing the COD load by 40%. The increase in direct pulp feed to the paper machine also reduced the water demand from the repulpers. Additional water reduction projects in the mill included the control of process water balances, fixing water leaks and passing valves together with inspections and repairs of open water storages, all of which resulted in further reduction in abstracted water of approximately 30%.

All the water improvements described above were made while the mill increased its pulp production by more than 23% and paper production by 5% over the same period.


Reducing water consumption at Gratkorn Mill

At the end of November 2017, we switched 105 m3/day of freshwater to use processwater at one of our dust cyclones, resulting in water use savings of 38,000 m3 per annum. In addition, in April 2018, we began reusing processwater in the thickener at the pulp mill. This resulted in processwater savings of 15,000 m3.

Improving effluent quality

In addition to reducing specific water usage, we have been steadily improving the quality of effluent we discharge. We use temperature controls, oxygen level controls and other metrics to ensure that we comply with all relevant environmental and permit regulations. Over the last five years, chemical oxygen demand (COD), excluding Saiccor Mill―which is building up the biodispersion COD dataset that will be used for future reporting―and total suspended solids (TSS) levels in effluent have declined by 5.2% and 17.2% respectively.

Factory | Image
Gratkorn Mill

Specific chemical oxygen demand (kg/adt)
(excluding Saiccor Mill)

Total water withdrawal by source (m<sup>3</sup>/a) | Graph


Across the group there was a slight decrease. However, COD increased slightly in SEU, Ehingen Mill experienced operational problems in its wastewater treatment plant. There was also a slight increase in SNA. COD at Somerset Mill was up due in large part to the reduction in saleable tons (~9%) resulting from the PM1 upgrade. In addition, the brownstock area had higher than normal liquor losses in Q3. Cloquet Mill’s COD decreased due to continued focus on washing efficiency resulting from a Lean Six Sigma project. Average COD effluent decreased in SSA, mainly due to cleaner pulp and washing efficiency improvements at Tugela Mill.

Specific total suspended solids (kg/adt)
(including Saiccor Mill)

Specific total suspended solids (kg/adt) (including Saiccor Mill) | Graph


Total suspended solids (TSS) increased in group-wide terms. In SEU, where TSS levels increased, Alfeld Mill experienced lower efficiencies of the filtration units while Gratkorn Mill experienced problems with final TSS separation. Bulky sludges generated by increased specific COD load caused TSS levels in the bleaching effluent at Stockstadt Mill to increase. It’s important to note that all fluctuations are far below the emission limits. In SNA, the overall trend shows a decrease in TSS from last year. TSS levels at Cloquet Mill were stable and declined at both Westbrook and Somerset Mills. In SSA, TSS in Saiccor Mill’s effluent increased due to a general unsteady state in the plant, leading to a higher level of fibre in the effluent. The subsequent decrease in production exacerbated the specific TSS figure. TSS at Tugela Mill increased due to effluent pipeline leaks, increased fibre loss from the paper machine and problems with the excess sump pump. We have commenced with the project to replace the effluent pipeline which will be commissioned in 2019.