Tracing paper through its production process

In your article on recycling in the paper supplement (DW 29 September) you imply there are opposing factions within the paper industry. But the people you claim to “referee” are from two entirely different sectors within the industry and could not be classed as “opposing”. The points are indeed complementary.

The paper industry gets fibre for paper-making from as many diverse, cost-effective sources as it can. In Western Europe, around 99 per cent comes from trees, either as a first use “virgin” fibre or as a second use “waste” fibre.

The paper maker then makes a paper “fit for purpose”, to meet demands placed upon it by the converter/consumer.

Under laboratory conditions a specific type of waste paper with a certain fibre content may be recycled up to seven times. But in practical commercial terms, it is not possible to re-use wood fibre from waste more than three times. Each time a load of waste paper is delivered to a paper mill, up to 30 per cent of that tonnage is lost by extraction of ink, fillers, coatings and all the other foreign matter in the load.

So if you start with 100 per cent fibre, the first time round you recover 70 per cent, and the second time round you only recover 49 per cent of the original volume. At this point cost of disposal and consequent supplementary pollution issues, by concentration of waste matter, rear their heads.

In regard to Mr Placca’s comment on white papers (in DW’s paper supplement), this is, I believe, a hangover from the soap powder mentality, where if it is “whiter than white”, it is clean and pure. Therefore designers certainly have a role to play in educating their clients.

Across the world the pulp and paper industries are working together to source wood fibre and non-wood fibres to meet increasing consumer demand for a product invented 2000 years ago.

When you think about wood consumption, please also bear in mind that of the world’s annual cut of forest, 51 per cent is used by native populations to heat their food and put roofs over their heads. Of the balance used by developed countries, only 8 per cent of total consumption is used for paper-making.

In the UK we have a mature paper industry over 500 years old which produces around five million tonnes of paper and board annually. Investment plans are under way to increase that production capacity by one million tonnes by the year 2000.

Given that in 1994 we were consuming 11 million tonnes of paper, and given the “political” enthusiasm to recover and recycle, there is in fact no industry out there to use it. We will therefore see the price of waste papers and boards return to a negative value once again as supply exceeds demand.

We must as a nation therefore consider incineration for energy production as a serious alternative. Otherwise, without a consistent demand, the price/value of waste papers as a source of raw material will continue to go through its see-saw cycle again and again. This will affect and upset clients and end-users.

John O’Brien

Managing director

Andrew Cellulose International

Woldingham

Surrey CR3 7BD

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