For Smurfit Kappa, greener manufacturing practices add up to happy customers and a happy environment. Waqas Qureshi was given the opportunity to tour the corrugated giant’s paper mill in the Netherlands
The pressure is on the manufacturing sector to come up with ever more innovative ways to become more sustainable. In the paper industry, the signs are that the message has come through loud and clear. Many mills have developed solid eco practices. One specialist in the corrugated sector, Smurfit Kappa, is determined to stay ahead of the game. It knows that the greener its manufacturing practices are, the better it is for the big name brands it works with.
“FMCG companies only want to do business with companies they can trust. Our objective is to grow in the most climate neutral way,” says Jo Cox, managing director of Smurfit Kappa’s Roermond Papier plant, located in the Netherlands.
Smurfit Kappa invited PN to take a look behind the scenes at the mill. It’s an impressive set up, while some of the stats provided by Smurfit Kappa are mind boggling.
The mill makes brown packing paper exclusively from recycled and alternative fibres, and it has made changes to its production processes, its supply chain and its waste disposal practices to reduce its environmental footprint. The facility produces recycled paper for packaging, with paper grades ranging from 90gsm to 220gsm. The site employs 260 staff.
The mill has built up, over the years, what Smurfit Kappa describes as a “truly zero waste” site that reuses ‘every’ fibre and water droplet, recycling all energy and waste to create a new life cycle.
There are four main challenges that the paper mill faces: materials, energy, water and side streams.
On materials, Smurfit Kappa Roermond Papier is 100% FSC Recycled 100%. The FSC Chain of Custody ensures a wood product comes from well managed forests. Fibres are certified from the wood and recovered paper collection point all the way to the box.
“Boxes are collected again and become raw materials for paper making,” says Cox. “Paper based packaging has the highest recycling rate between packaging materials. We also aim to close material loops with other sectors to use secondary raw materials instead of primary resources.”
The site currently produces less than a kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of solid waste for every metric ton of paper that it makes, converting combustible waste into fuel pellets that it sells as a by-product to other industries. The plant uses natural gas and bio-gas to generate power and steam.
Reusing resources is one thing; the other focus is on reducing C02 emissions. This involves increasing the share of alternative fibres on raw material to substitute recovered paper. There is also a programme to reduce 1.5-2% of specific energy consumption per year until 2020.
There is also a target to increase renewable bio-fuels from 5% , at present, to more than 20%.
Cox says most bio-boilers wood is used as fuel, and he believes that this was fundamentally wrong. In the ‘waste’ hierarchy incineration of wood is at a very
He adds: “We should capture the carbon as long as possible in products before the last step of incineration. This is one of the reasons why we are looking for better, more sustainable solutions. One of the possibilities is to use raw methane bio-gas from an off-site manure digester. We are talking about this concept with the agriculture association and some other parties in the region. The mill will convert in the bio boiler, with a high efficiency of close to 90%, the methane into steam necessary for the paper process.
“We aim to increase our share in non-fossil fuel and decrease CO2 emission per ton of paper step by step with bio-gas from our own water treatment plant and other projects. Additionally, we are using only surface water from the river in production and have a high value application for this water first before re-using it and cleaning it in our biological water treatment plant.”
The closed-loop policy continues to impress with Smurfit Kappa’s approach to how water is managed. The mill uses just 2.7 litres, or 0.7 gallons, of water to produce a kilogram of paper, less than 2% of the volume needed to produce the same amount in a conventional mill.
The water, drawn from the nearby river Maas, is recycled several times and cleaned by organic processes before being returned to its original source. The plant has found applications for almost all its side streams, and it also replaces 6,000 tons of recovered paper – using it as a primary raw material in the cycle again.
Process water is needed to dissolve recovered paper and transport the fibres from the pulper in various cleaning steps to the paper machine. After use in the production, a biological water treatment plant purifies the process water in several steps.
Part of the process water is sent back to the production process and part of the cleaned water flows back to the river Maas.
“We use enormous amounts of water but almost 90% of what we use flows back into the source,” explains Cox. “Several water loops make sure that water is used as many times as possible, before it is sent to our biological water treatment plant. Due to constant focus and continuous improvement we have reached BOD removal efficiency of 99.9%. Part of the cleaned water is again re-used on our site, reducing specific water consumption. The remaining water is given back to river Maas. We use the bio-gas, produced at the water treatment plant, as green fuel.”
While Smurfit Kappa is setting the bar high with regards to a closed loop approach to manufacturing, Cox believes that the EU now needs to catch up. Many directives were written before the circular economy concept had really taken shape. He believes that the time is right for change and that this approach should be fully integrated into business models.
“The current laws and regulations are not appropriate for this new economy, because most laws are written in the past from a linear economy perspective. International and domestic law and regulation should make it possible to re-use each other’s side streams. In our region authorities are supportive with regulations and local initiatives to close loops. What about other regions, especially when closing material loops across borders? So if the EU promotes the circular economy, it should adapt regulations from a circular economy perspective.”
As sustainability becomes more important to organisations, as well as governments, the procedures and investment that Smurfit Kappa Roermond Papier mill has put in to place is a fine example of working towards a truly circular model.