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A circular approach to cleaner water

Our new water purity targets and circular economy approach resulted in a long-term sustainable solution in Colombia.

“Smurfit Kappa's new targets for water purity came at a difficult time, but we turned it into an exciting opportunity,” says Mauricio Suarez, Paper Mill Superintendent at Smurfit Kappa Barbosa, Colombia.

We have set a global target of a 60% reduction of organic content in water returned to the environment by 2025. However, this target came at the same time as a planned 40% capacity increase for Smurfit Kappa Barbosa, creating a challenge.

This change meant the final effluent figures would not be known until maximum capacity was reached. After the upgrades were installed, it was found the plant has a 100m3/hour capacity – the equivalent of a town of 16,000 people.

“We could have met our legal obligations in a variety of ways, but we’re committed to keeping all our processes sustainable, so we wanted a biological solution,” says Mauricio. “Non-biological solutions would have resulted in too much sludge going to landfill, which felt like fulfilling one environmental criterion by not fulfilling another and that is not the way we do things at Smurfit Kappa.”

Mauricio and his team worked with the Paper Production Technology team to develop a range of solutions using a circular economy approach, including a homogenisation tank with chemical control, a settler, a sludge dewatering press, and a biogas removal system.

The state-of-the-art new equipment also gave us the opportunity to install a biologically-based, circular self-sustaining anaerobic reactor. Although this was a more expensive solution, the environmental benefit was significant: 75% of the contaminants in the water are removed and converted from sludge into biogas, which in turn can be used to produce ‘green’ electricity. Altogether a really long-term sustainable solution.

Since the new installation started operating in November 2020, the water discharge quality has improved enormously and brought us a big step closer to reaching our water purity target.

“We have received many awards for sustainability,” says Mauricio, “but this is the most exciting project I’ve worked on – the first time a paper company has installed a state-of-the-art water treatment system like this in Colombia.”

A circular approach 

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