What Is a Pulp Mill?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A pulp mill is a facility that processes timber products in pulp for paper making. Companies that manufacture paper may own or lease pulp mills to supply their needs for raw material. These facilities vary in size and use a number of different processes in their pulp production. Staffing sizes can vary, but typically include people like paper engineers, chemists, and technicians to run and maintain the equipment. Employment prospects can depend on the market for paper products.

Recycled paper made at a pulp mill.
Recycled paper made at a pulp mill.

Pulp mills can use chemical and physical processes to turn raw materials into pulp suitable for paper. These processes break up the material into cellulose, and grind fibers to a uniform size for various types of projects. The facility may also bleach its raw pulp to make white and pale papers, and can add dyes to create colored paper products. Custom runs for specific projects are available; at facilities that supply pulp for the paper used to print money, for instance, the manufacturing process is very precise for consistency and security reasons.

A bag made of recycled pulp.
A bag made of recycled pulp.

Kraft, sulfite, and other chemical processes can be used at a pulp mill. In addition to handling raw timber products, they can also take materials for recycling, like rags for rag paper and paper products to make recycled paper. The percentage of recycled to virgin content can vary depending on the product; very high percentages can create weaker, less durable products that do not perform as well, so the pulp mill must balance environmental concerns with the needs of the consumer.

Some pulp mill facilities use certified timber and recycled products and submit to certification procedures so they can carry special seals on their products. These seals may testify to environmental responsibility and stewardship, and they can be a selling point on finished paper. Some customers demand certified timber products and actively seek out these labels, while others may find them appealing when they are in the process of shopping for paper at the store. Certification maintenance may require periodic reinspections and submissions of material for analysis and testing.

Pulp mills have historically been a topic of dispute in some communities. A pulp mill can produce strong, unpleasant odors and may use highly polluting chemicals in its processes. Prior to the development of stringent environmental regulation, some dumped waste directly into waterways and caused significant environmental problems. Members of communities where such mills are located or proposed may agitate against them because of health and safety concerns.

Recycled paper from a paper mill is used to make toilet paper.
Recycled paper from a paper mill is used to make toilet paper.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon193295

Readers may be interested to watch a 15-minute documentary I wrote and directed, 'The Paper People', about how paper is made. It's now free to watch online.

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