Pulp and paper effluent quality

Access PDF (497 kB)

The Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations govern the discharge of harmful substances from pulp and paper mills into water frequented by fish. This indicator shows the results achieved since the mid 1980's under these regulations.

Results

Key results

Between 1985 and 2018, the quality of pulp and paper effluent released directly to the environment has improved.

  • Tests for toxicity met regulatory standards 25% of the time in 1985 and 98.3% of the time in 2018
  • Tests for biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids met regulatory standards 68% and 60% of the time, respectively, in 1985. Both tests met the standards 99.9% of the time in 2018

Percentage of regulatory tests meeting regulatory standards by pulp and paper mills, Canada, 1985 to 2018 (selected years)

Percentage of regulatory tests meeting regulatory standards by pulp and paper mills, Canada, 1985 to 2018 (selected years) (see data table below for the long description)
Data table for the long description
Percentage of regulatory tests meeting regulatory standards by pulp and paper mills, Canada, 1985 to 2018 (selected years)
Year Toxicity tests passed
(percentage)
Total number of toxicity tests Biochemical oxygen demand tests passed
(percentage)
Total number of biochemical oxygen demand tests Total suspended solids tests passed
(percentage)
Total number of total suspended solids tests
1985 25.0 n/a 68.0 n/a 60.0 n/a
1996 78.0 2 517 97.9 37 453 99.7 45 366
1998 90.4 n/a 99.7 n/a 99.9 n/a
2000 94.9 n/a 99.8 n/a 99.8 n/a
2002 95.9 n/a 99.9 n/a 99.9 n/a
2003 96.4 1 966 99.9 33 585 99.9 41 926
2008 97.4 1 847 99.9 20 883 99.9 35 646
2012 98.3 1 535 99.7 16 706 99.8 29 383
2013 96.2 1 540 99.9 16 851 99.8 29 012
2014 97.5 1 457 99.9 16 559 99.8 28 670
2015 97.6 1 319 99.9 15 373 99.9 27 607
2016 97.3 1 279 99.9 14 610 99.9 26 871
2017 97.5 1 277 99.9 14 848 99.9 26 936
2018 98.3 1 256 99.9 14 687 99.9 26 639

Note: n/a = not available.

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.79 kB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Toxicity tests refer to tests of effluent toxicity on fish. Biochemical oxygen demand refers to the amount of dissolved oxygen needed to break down organic material in water. Total suspended solids includes all particles in water that will not pass through a filter. As levels of biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids rise, a water body begins to lose its ability to support aquatic life.
Source: For 1985 to 2008: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2012) Status report on the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations. For 2009 to 2018: Environment and Climate Change Canada's Forest Products and Fisheries Act Division based on submissions from regulated pulp and paper mills and off-site treatment facilities.

Pulp is produced from wood, fibre crop or waste paper. It can be produced using chemical, semi-chemical or mechanical processes to break the raw materials into fibres to be used to create paper. Large volumes of water are used in pulp production. The pulp and paper industry also ranks second to municipalities in wastewater output to the Canadian environment. A typical kraft mill discharges between 80 000 and 130 000 cubic metres (or roughly 3 to 5 Olympic swimming pools) of effluent per day into water.

The effluent is a complex combination of waste produced during the pulp and paper making process including wastewater from debarking, pulp washing, bleaching and regeneration of cooking chemicals. The effluent is treated prior to release, typically in 2 stages: primary and secondary treatment. In primary treatment, suspended solids are removed in clarifiers and/or settling basins. In secondary treatment, bacteria break down biodegradable material and toxic components, thus reducing biochemical oxygen demand, toxicity and levels of total suspended solids that can damage fish habitat downstream from the mill. Secondary biological treatment became common by 1996 following the establishment of current regulatory limits in 1992.

Canada is one of the world leaders in the production of pulp and paper products. In 2018, the pulp, paper and paperboard mills industry employed more than 28 000 CanadiansFootnote 1 and accounted for 0.2% of Canada's gross domestic product.Footnote 2 

About the indicator

About the indicator

What the indicator measures

This indicator reports the percentage of acute lethality, biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solid tests that are within the regulatory limits for selected years between 1985 and 2018.

Why this indicator is important

The Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations (the regulations) were developed under the Fisheries Act in 1971 to govern the discharge of deleterious substances into waters frequented by fish. The regulations were designed to encourage mills to modify their processes in order to improve water quality and protect fish, fish habitat and the use of fisheries resources. They set limits on the amounts of total suspended solids and biochemical oxygen demanding matter, and prohibit deposits of acutely lethal effluent.

The 1971 regulations differentiated between new, expanded, altered and existing mills. New, expanded and/or altered mills were subject to the prescribed limits. For mills already in operation, the limits served as non-enforceable guidelines. In 1992, the 1971 regulations were updated to expand coverage to all mills, and to drive further effluent quality improvements based on standards achievable using secondary wastewater treatment. After a transition period, all mills became subject to the regulations in 1996. The regulatory standards have remained unchanged since.

Federal Sustainable Development Strategy icon: Pristine lakes and rivers

Pristine lakes and rivers

This indicator supports supports the measurement of progress towards the following 2019 to 2022 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy long-term goal: Clean and healthy lakes and rivers support economic prosperity and the well-being of Canadians.

In addition, the indicator contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is linked to the 2030 Agenda's Goal 6, Clean water and sanitation and Target 6.3, "By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally."

Related indicators

The Metal mining effluent quality in Canada indicator summarizes the results achieved since the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations came into effect in 2002.

Data sources and methods

Data sources and methods

Data sources

Data from 1985 to 2008 are taken from Environment and Climate Change Canada's Status report on the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations. Data from 2009 to 2018 comes from Environment and Climate Change Canada's Forest Products and Fisheries Act Division.

More information

All data were submitted by regulated pulp and paper mills and off-site treatment facilities to Environment and Climate Change Canada. These submissions are required under section 7 of the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations (the regulations).

Effluent samples for biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, and acute toxicity are taken throughout the year as outlined in the regulations. For each outfall structure discharging directly to the environment:

  • biochemical oxygen demand tests are run at least 3 times a week
  • total suspended solids are sampled daily
  • toxicity tests are run at least once a month

Data for all active pulp and paper mills across Canada are used. There are mills operating in all provinces except Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan. At the time this indicator was produced, the most recent data available were from 2018.

Methods

The indicator shows the rate of compliance with the regulations. The compliance rate is calculated as the number of tests within the regulatory limits in a year divided by the total number of tests taken in a given year for all mills.

Toxicity tests refer to effluent acute lethality tests conducted on Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Tests are run once a month for each outfall structure discharging directly to water following Environment and Climate Change Canada's Reference Method EPS 1/RM/13. Effluent is considered acutely lethal if the effluent at 100% concentration kills more than 50% of the Rainbow Trout during a 96-hour period.

Caveats and limitations

The indicator only assesses the quality of effluent released to surface waters. Groundwater is not considered in this indicator.

Other deleterious effects of effluent from pulp and paper mills are not considered with this indicator since the focus is on monitoring under the regulations.

The indicator does not present all the years of data available since 1985. Only data for the years 1985, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2008 have been selected to represent effluent quality at key points in the evolution of the regulations and during restructuring of the industry. Since 2012, the regulations have remained unchanged and data are reported annually to 2018.

Resources

Resources

References

Environment and Climate Change Canada (2000) Biological test method: acute lethality of effluents to rainbow trout. Reference method EPS 1/RM/13. Environmental Protection Series. Second ed., December 2000 (with May 2007 amendments). Retrieved on January 28, 2020.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (2012) Status report on the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations / [by] Forest Products and Fisheries Act Division, Industrial Sectors Directorate. Retrieved on January 28, 2020.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2012) Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations. Retrieved on January 28, 2020.

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: