Why pulp & paper is the climate challenge nobody is talking about

Shelby Ann Breger
3 min readApr 20, 2021


6% of U.S. Industrial Energy is used in Pulp & Paper production. That’s equivalent to 22M cars on the road (or 22x the current number of EVs on the road) or 75% of the energy used in commercial aviation.

The paper industry is far more than newsprint and books — it encompasses the toilet paper we all made a run for in March 2020, the packaging our food comes in (your Dunkin Donut’s cup takes 500 KJ to manufacture), and the material that houses our frequent amazon purchases. While reducing, reusing and recycling are critical components of climate mitigation, that will not get us far enough in a growing global economy. This is where changing the climate impact per unit becomes critical. Here are four reasons why mitigating the climate impact on a unit basis is vital for the pulp and paper industry:

1.The Pulp & Paper industry is growing: Total production has trended upwards over the last decade, and this trend is expected to continue through 2030. In fact, the global paper and pulp market was valued at $519B in 2019, and is expected to reach $679B in 2027, growing at a CAGR of 3.45%.

Total Production in the Pulp & Paper Industry, scaled to 2009 (Source: IEA)

2. The Pulp & Paper industry is a real economic driver in our economy: the forest industry overall employs nearly 400k people in the United States and more than $60B in wages. The pulp and paper mill segment alone accounts for ~ 50k of employment, and more than $4B in wages. This is nearly 1% of GDP & 4% of Manufacturing GDP.

3. The industry consumes 6% of US industrial Energy more than both cement and steel. The good news is that it is decreasing amounts of emissions-intensive fuels — the better news is that there are opportunities for greater efficiency.The average pulp mill is 3x more productive than when it was first built — and the average pulp mill is over 70 years old.

4. The average pulp and paper plant is more like a power plant than anything else. Mills can capture more value by selling excess (renewable) energy (the byproduct to the byproduct) generated back to the grid — creating an incredible economic and environmental opportunity for the industry. Here’s a 20-year view of one mill we know.

Via Separations is focused on helping pulp & paper and other chemical companies reduce their energy consumption while making more product — doing more with less to support a vital industry.


  1. Pulp and paper industry size (Intrado)
  2. Global Paper and paper production 2010–2030 (IEA)
  3. Environmental impact of packaging (Limepack)
  4. Electric Vehicles (Edison Electric Institute)
  5. Paper Mills in the US (IBIS)
  6. Forest industry economic impact (American Forest & Paper Association)
  7. Pulp and Paper manufacturing (NCASI)
  8. Mill data (RISI)
  9. Pulp & Paper Energy intensity (IEA)
  10. Industrial Energy Use (EIA)
  11. Mill-level energy data