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Using Water Sustainably to Manufacture Essential Products

Learn how one AF&PA member is innovating on water use in the paper and wood products industry.

Perhaps no season sheds light on the importance of water more than the hot summer months. Whether you’re drinking water, trying to cool off, or going with the flow, water is an essential resource – and it’s also why the Environmental Protection Agency designates August as National Water Quality Month

AF&PA members, including Green Bay Packaging (GBP) – which last year won AF&PA’s Sustainability Award for Water – help contribute to the sustainable use of water. In her own words, GBP Corporate Director of Environmental and Sustainability Lisa Bauer-Lotto explains the economic, social and environmental benefits of a closed-water system. 


Q: What’s one thing you want people to know about water use, and the paper products we use each day? 

Water is key to the papermaking process, so we are reliant on, and a stakeholder in, sustainable use of water resources. For every ton of paper fiber recycled, it is estimated 550 gallons of water are conserved, and significant water impacts are avoided. Using paper products contributes to the sustainable renewable fiber circular economy that promotes the recycling of paper and benefits water resources from responsible paper recycling. 

Q: What impact has your closed-water water system made? 

The circular water economy of a closed-process water system results in cost savings and avoided impacts to the watershed. This includes savings of energy and resources for offsite water transport and treatment because water is recycled onsite. 

The Green Bay Mill’s closed process water reuse-recycling program has avoided the use of more than 5 billion gallons of water. In addition, the mill’s closed-water system has prevented millions of pounds of biological oxygen demand (BOD) and solids discharge over the life of our closed water system, resulting in significant environmental benefits to our Fox River watershed, which is an impaired water body for both BOD and suspended solids. The closed-process water program at our Green Bay Mill, implemented in 1992, was one of the first recycling mills in the United States to have a closed water loop. 

This year, our Green Bay Mill is implementing phases of our new mill’s water reclaim-recycling system, which eliminates all direct contact with the Fox River. This best-in-class water system will reclaim and recycle millions of gallons of water per day with an adjacent water municipality, from there and back to our mill. 

Q: What does it mean for you and your company to win AF&PA’s Sustainability Award for Water? 

It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by our industry for water achievements. GBP takes pride in continued water conservation that reduces water impacts and provides benefits to our watershed community. Doing more with less water, while maintaining product quality, is a tribute to teamwork and collaboration across all mill departments.   

The GBP Green Bay Mill has a legacy of water stewardship. In 1994, the mill was recognized, by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Brown County, as a pollution warrior and ‘Clean Bay Backer’ for water recycling. The stewardship effort continues into 2021, with the building of our new mill and 100 percent reclaim-recycling water system. The water system is estimated to contribute to significant reductions in water use per ton of paper production, continuing our mill water achievements. 

To learn more about sustainable water best practices, water stewardship and the industry’s water use goal, read AF&PA’s 2020 Sustainability Report update on our Better Practices, Better Planet 2020 goals. 

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recyclable resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative —Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future. The forest products industry accounts for approximately 5% of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures about $350 billion in products annually and employs about 925,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of about $65 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 43 states. Visit AF&PA online at or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper