Green Bay Packaging has produced 100% recycled containerboard with net zero water use, receiving the first industrial validation of the process.
The company’s net zero water system at its Green Bay, Wisconsin, mill reduces water demand through the use of reclaimed water and alternative water sources, offsetting the need for freshwater consumption. The company says the goal of achieving net zero water is to transform a water-intensive production process into a more efficient one, returning more water to its source than has been removed.
As a result of the effort, Green Bay Packaging has achieved the first UL validation of net zero water use. After reviewing the company’s efforts, UL established the first industrial standard with the UL 1397, an environment validation claim procedure for net zero water, which was published at the end of January.
Paper and packaging production is water intensive, which is why Green Bay Packaging established the net zero system. The University of Minnesota says water use within pulp and paper mills can be as high as 17,000 gallons per ton of paper and efficient production reduces that to about 4,500 gallons a ton.
Green Bay Packaging used 277 million gallons of water in 2020 and has a partnership with wastewater utility New Water that allows it to recycle wastewater and supplement it with partially treated wastewater from the utility, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette. The Press Gazette also says the paper machine at the mill can store up to 3 million gallons of water, which can be reused in containerboard production.
“The net-zero water system is an investment in water technology that benefits community water resources while providing sustainable product innovation for our packaging customers and consumers,” says Green Bay Packaging’s Director of Environment and Sustainability Lisa Bauer-Lotto. “Establishing a reclaimed water loop with the local municipal wastewater utility is an integral circular economy innovation into our papermaking process.”
Other water-intensive industries have taken steps to reduce consumption and waste, as water infrastructure remains an important part of sustainability targets. In the textile industry there are products being developed that use no water, and a brewery in San Francisco recently installed an on-site treatment plant that has the capacity to recycle up to 20 million gallons of water a year.
Green Bay Packaging says it took the first steps in water consumption conservation in 1963, which led to a fully closed water system as a semi-chemical pulping mill in 1972. The closed-loop water system was rebuilt when the mill converted to a 100% recycled paper production in 1992.
The new Green Bay mill began production in 2021 with a circular reclaim water system that reduces the amount of water used per ton of paper production, the company says.
Green Bay Packaging has 37 facilities in 16 states and its products are completely recyclable, are made out of as much recycled and renewable materials as possible.