Managing Pulp and Paper Effluent Quality in Canada

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The Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations (the Regulations) oversee the discharge of harmful substances from pulp and paper mills into water frequented by fish.

Since 1985, the quality of pulp and paper effluent released directly to the environment, as set out in the Regulations, has improved considerably. In 2014, 97.5%, 99.9% and 99.8% of effluent samples met regulatory requirements for toxicity tests on fish, biochemical oxygen demand, and total suspended solids, respectively.

The Regulations set limits on the amounts of total suspended solids and biochemical oxygen demanding matter, and prohibit deposits of effluents that display acute lethality to fish. Since 1996, all mills are subject to the Regulations.

Percentage of regulatory tests passed by pulp and paper mills, Canada, 1985 to 2014 (selected years)

Scatter chart -  See long description below

Long description

The scatter chart shows the percentage of tests that met regulatory standards for toxicity, biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids in 1985, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Over this period, the percentage of tests that met regulatory standards has increased. In 2014, toxicity tests, biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solid tests met regulatory standards 97.5%, 99.9% and 99.8% of the time, compared to 25%, 68% and 60% of the time in 1985.

Data for this chart
Percentage of regulatory tests passed by pulp and paper mills, Canada, 1985 to 2014 (selected years)
YearToxicity tests passed
Total number of toxicity testsBiochemical oxygen demand tests passed
Total number of biochemical oxygen demand testsTotal suspended solids tests passed
Total number of total suspended solids tests
199678251797.937 45399.745 366
200396.4196699.933 58599.941 926
200897.4184799.920 88399.935 646
201298.3153599.716 70699.829 383
201396.2154099.916 85199.829 012
201497.5145799.916 55999.828 670

Note: n/a = not available.

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: Toxicity test refers 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 animals.
Source: For 1985 to 2008: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2012) Status Report on the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations. For 2012 to 2014: Environment and Climate Change Canada's Fisheries Act and Forest Products (Water) office 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. Canada is one of the world leaders in the production of pulp and paper products. In 2014, the pulp, paper and paperboard mills industry employed 29 655 Canadians,Footnote [1] and contributed to 0.3% of Canada's gross domestic product.Footnote [2]

Large volumes of water are used in pulp production with the industry ranking second to municipalities in wastewater output to the Canadian environment. For example, a typical kraft mill discharges between 80 000 and 130 000 cubic metres of effluent per day into water, or roughly three to five Olympic swimming pools of effluent a day. Effluents are 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 effluents are treated prior to release, typically in two 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 – 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.

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Icon: Pristine lakes and rivers Pristine lakes and rivers

This indicator supports the measurement of progress towards the long-term goal of the 2016–2019 Federal Sustainable Development Strategy: Clean and healthy lakes and rivers support economic prosperity and the well-being of Canadians.

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