Water plays a critical role in our business, particularly in the paper production process. Fibres are transported through the production process, from pulp to paper, using water, and then superheated steam is used to dry the paper.
Water is also used to dilute starch in our corrugated plants, which then bonds several layers of paper together to create board, and in all facilities for cooling machinery and cleaning.
As a water-intensive business, it is important that we consume, recycle and treat the water we use responsibly and efficiently so that we minimise our impact when we return water to the natural environment and that we comply with all legislative requirements.
Our primary water stewardship priority is quality. At DS Smith, over 80 per cent of the water we extract for our own purposes is returned to be treated via our own or municipal effluent treatment. The remaining water is lost by evaporation during the paper making process or through starch dilution. The largest consumer of water in our business is our Paper division, where we use wastewater treatment systems to ensure that the effluent we discharge is purified, ecologically safe and meets all regulatory requirements. All our sites monitor COD, BOD and AOX levels, pH and suspended solids, which is a key element to managing performance to prevent pollution incidents and ensure water is returned back to the environment in the same or better condition than when it was extracted. At some sites, we also treat wastewater on behalf of the local community.
Our second water stewardship priority is to manage our facilities that are in areas of high water stress. Our assessment of water-related risks in our operations continues to suggest that the majority of our sites are located in regions where fresh water is a relatively abundant resource, with the exception of Lucca. We manage this site closely to ensure that we remain within extraction limits, and have specific localised risk identification, mitigation and management plans in place to use water more sustainably and efficiently.
Finally, our third priority is to reduce total water consumption. Predominantly, our water is sourced from boreholes (53 per cent) and surface water (42 per cent). This is the most difficult area to tackle as water is crucial to our business and our production levels continue to increase. There is also a delicate and highly technical balance to be maintained, as reducing water use leads to an increase in energy consumption. Based on industry benchmarks, we have identified an optimum level of water use of 6.5m3/tonne of production.