Mercer’s Search for Circular Solutions and Zero Waste

Zero waste to landfill – that is one of Mercer’s set 2030 Aspirational Goals.

In Canada, the third week of October is Waste Reduction Week; though our Canadian operations work towards waste reduction every day, the week’s sentiments and our aspirational goal applies to all of our operations across the globe. As we speak, our team members look for circular solutions for the waste produced during our manufacturing processes.

What do we mean by waste?

When you think about it, Mercer’s operations have been designed as a circular solution. Through our sawmill, Mercer Timber Products, and other neighboring or partner sawmills, Mercer is able to collect the chips resulting from the debarkers and use them in our pulp mills. Harvesting companies, like Mercer Forestry Services and Mercer Holz, build integral partnerships to ensure we are collecting as much wood debris from the forest as possible, also providing our pulp mills with wood material. Synergy has been innately created through our operations and relationships, getting the most out of this precious resource.

Wood chips, however, are not the only byproduct as a result of our manufacturing processes. At Mercer, we define waste as the solids that are deposited into our operations’ landfills. This includes wood ash, recausticizing dregs, and lime waste. Unlike the green energy we produce in our pulp mills and sawmill, traditionally this waste has not been utilized as a part of a circular solution. Over time, however, our operations have found ways to make them part of that solution.

Naturally manufactured fertilizers

In our Canadian mills, biosolids which are produced in our wastewater treatment plants are land applied to farmers’ fields. Many farmers value the biosolids for their slow-release nitrogen and phosphorous, nutrients essential for plant growth; others value them for the organic matter that increases the tillability of their soils. For Mercer Peace River, this is known in the community as the Nutriboost Program, with one farmer noting that he now gets 70 bushels of canola per acre of land versus the 35 bushels per acre before using Nutriboost.

Over in Germany, our operations also share their waste with farmers; in this instance, lime. Lime wastes have great potential to enhance acidic soils, well received and appreciated by the farmers and the land where the soil is known to be more basic in nature. Creating this greater balance in the soil results in a higher crop yield.

Wood ash that comes from unburnt biomass in our pulp mill operations, like lime and biosolids, has great fertilizer potential. Wood ash promotes greater growth than in non-fertilized forests. Mercer continues to look for circular solutions to utilize wood ash in forest management and avoid landfill deposits. 

With more than one form of waste in Mercer operations providing fertilizer options for the landbase, there is the pursuit to create a super fertilizer combining two or more waste byproducts. As the benefits become better known, it will encourage farmers to adopt these more biogenic options as opposed to fossil fuel-based manufactured fertilizers.

Building blocks in other materials

With the acquisition of the HIT facility in Germany, Mercer has the opportunity to create another synergy between process and product through the manufacturing of pellets. At the moment, the factory produces pellets as a method of heating homes. However, wood ash and biosolids can also be combined into a pellet form. This creates a multi-purpose material, still giving the ability to heat homes while also serving as a form of fertilizer with a different application method. 

Mercer is also exploring the potential of utilizing lime in the construction industry. During wet and rainy periods of the year, construction companies like to use lime as a drying agent for wet, clay-like soils on road building sites to maintain the integrity of the working site. There is also the possibility to combine lime and wood ash into a product known as roller-compacted concrete. Roller-compacted concrete is used to construct dams and roads, and used in airport aprons and cattle feedlots, without the use of rebar.

Reduce rather than reuse

While our natural waste byproducts hold a great deal of potential as fertilizer and building options, circular solutions are not the only focus Mercer has on our journey to zero waste by 2030. Rather, we want to create more efficient processes to reduce and eliminate waste altogether. This is the challenge to our team members and one they have taken on with enthusiasm. What are more efficient processes that we can develop to minimize the generation of waste in our operations? What solutions can we find for the waste until that waste is ultimately eliminated? 

In answering these questions, Mercer realizes its vision as exceptional people creating bioproducts for a more sustainable world. We know our operations are innately circular and it is through further refinement that we become even more Sustainable. By Design.