Keeping it real

Paper manufacturer, M-real New Thames Ltd has implemented a number of strategies to reduce its impacts on the environment. Jason Rayfield visited the company’s New Thames Mill in Kent to find out more.

It is no secret that the manufacture of pulp and paper has the potential to do harm to the environment, due in part to the fact that it impacts on emissions to air and water, and also produces solid wastes. But what are crucial to all of these impacts are the attitudes and aspirations of UK pulp and paper manufacturers. Recent research from the Environment Agency’s NetRegs programme showed that many such manufacturers have a low awareness of green legislation, with findings revealing that only 30 per cent of pulp and paper manufacturers questioned could name any environmental legislation affecting them. With findings such as these it would be easy to assume the industry has been slow in implementing better environmental manufacturing practices, but to do that would not do justice to some of the innovative practices that have had such a positive effect on the environment.

Situated in Kemsley, Kent, M-real’s New Thames Mill is one of Europe’s largest and most technologically advanced paper mills. The mill produces quality uncoated wood-free business and graphic papers that perform across the whole range of copying and printing technologies. In direct response to the need to protect the environment, and in-line with its parent company, M-real Corporation’s policy, M-real New Thames Mill has spent millions of pounds developing its own environmentally responsible approach (era) to manufacturing paper. Era takes a holistic look at paper manufacture, which sympathetically considers all aspects of life cycle, including forestry practices, wastewater treatment, energy use, and recycling and environmental management systems.

A key factor in the company’s approach to the environment has been legislative drivers. The pulp and paper industry was the first to come under the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) regime, which proved to be the catalyst for a number of New Thames Mill’s more recent developments, as environment manager, Kate Cathie, explains: “Most of our emissions are now legislatively controlled under IPPC,” she states, “and under IPPC we will be driven more as an organisation to look at each waste stream we produce and how it can be recycled, disposed of or re-used internally.”

IPPC permit

The IPPC permit incorporates four technical units and two directly associated activities with a host of technical connections. The technical units comprise two M-real mills, one being New Thames and the other being M-real Sittingbourne Ltd in nearby Sittingbourne. The St Regis Paper Company is another, which is a separate business to M-real but is connected as it shares a directly associated company, Grovehurst Energy Limited, with M-real New Thames and Sittingbourne. Grovehurst Energy provides site services including effluent treatment, power & steam supply, water abstraction and supply, and other services. The fourth technical unit is PowerGen, which owns and operates the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant and the Waste to Energy plant. The second directly associated activity is the effluent treatment plant, which is run by Grovehurst Energy and used by M-real Sittingbourne mill as well as New Thames and St Regis at Kemsley.

Looking at each stage of production in turn, the extent of M-real’s environmental commitment becomes clear. In terms of raw materials, New Thames mill is unique to M-real Corporation as being the only mill to use recycled fibre. The Recycled Fibre Plant is the result of a £43 million investment, and it has the capability to reprocess waste paper, recovering fibre that is of such a high standard that it can be successfully used to produce high quality paper. The plant has the capability of utilising 180,000 tonnes of post-consumer waste paper per year, which is equivalent to 16 per cent of the nation’s office waste paper.

Most of the pulp used for making fine papers is produced using a chemical process, which has traditionally included chlorine gas as the bleaching agent. It is now widely accepted that the by-products created by the use of chlorine gas in pulp bleaching are environmentally unacceptable. All M-real’s mills use only elemental chlorine free (ECF) pulp in the production of paper where virgin fibre is required. The Recycled Fibre Plant at New Thames uses a totally chlorine free (TCF) bleaching process in the production of fibre. There is no chlorine gas used in the paper making process at any of the M-real mills.

Water intensive

Traditionally papermaking is water intensive. At the early stages of the process the water to fibre ratio is as high as 97 per cent water. The paper machine reduces the water content down to approximately 5 per cent, utilising all four methods of water removal — gravity, suction, pressure and heat. Some of the removed water is reused in the process and some is lost to the atmosphere as steam. The remainder becomes wastewater or effluent.

Disposal of wastewater is strictly controlled by the Environment Agency and paper mills are set strict targets to meet. New Thames Mill’s effluent management is described by Kate Cathie: “We are capped on flow, but we also have to look at what chemicals we use”, she says. “With so many different effluent streams, we have to make sure that none of us can affect the effluent treatment plant and also that one mill doesn’t affect the other one. In terms of what we use, the biggest influence is that the RCF plant is using paper machine backwater and supplying the mill with a liquid pulp.”

Rachel Roberts, environment and special projects engineer, adds: “The other reason we have to control flow to Grovehurst effluent treatment plant is because there is also a tonnage of sludge we can provide to the waste to energy plant.” Installed last year, this plant burns the waste plastics from the recovered fibre recycling process and sludges generated on site to produce steam. This steam is then utilised by the paper mills.

The sites wastewater treatment plant is operated by Grovehurst Energy, which also provides common energy and services to these sites. In excess of £7 million has been invested in the plant, ensuring that all emissions surpass the targets set by the Environment Agency.

Wastewater treatment is a site-specific activity with different criteria being set for each paper mill.

Energy is required within the papermaking process to drive machinery and to provide heat for moisture extraction. The drying element of the process requires large amounts of steam. The key environmental issues surrounding energy in paper manufacture are energy source, energy efficiency, energy consumption and emissions to atmosphere.

Combined heat and power

The Kemsley combined heat and power plant is operated by PowerGen . The plant uses natural gas, and also supplies power and steam to all three paper mills. Commissioned in November 1995 it achieves 88 per cent energy efficiency for a plant of its class and is able to regulate its output to match precisely the needs of the mills so that no energy is wasted. Any excess power is supplied to the National Grid.

On the subject of energy, according to Kate Cathie the sites waste to energy plant offers a range of benefits: “One of the reasons for building the waste to energy plant was to reduce our reliance on landfill”, she says. “Also the waste to energy plant produces steam which we can use on-site. We are trying to reduce the amount of waste that is being land filled and the waste to energy plant will hopefully remove the process streams such as plastics, and also sludge from the effluent treatment plant.”

Rachel Roberts adds: “Because the waste to energy plant reduces the amount of sludge that needs to be disposed of, this will mean less of our lorries passing through the nearby village. The benefits of this are reduced congestion and air pollution.”

M-real New Thames is also examining the possibility of turning waste sludge into construction materials. Kate Cathie takes up the story: “The reason for doing this is because the plant has to run at a relatively low yield because it is producing a high quality fibre. The idea is if we can produce something, we won’t just have a pulp producing plant, we will have a board producing plant overall producing less waste. This is another example of how we try to utilise all of our various waste streams to maximum economic and environmental effect.”

Management system

Going back to basics, one of the fundamental tools for any manufacturer wishing to take stock of their environmental activities and impacts is to become ISO 14001 certified. M-real New Thames and M-real Sittingbourne operate a joint management system encompassing the requirements of ISO 14001 and ISO 9001, known as the Business Improvement System (BIS). In 2002, ten objectives were set out which encompassed a range of activities related to environmental improvement. “For M-real, ISO 14001 pulls everything together and gives it a focus”, comments Kate Cathie. “Without it we would still demonstrate a commitment to the environment, but ISO 14001 provides a real drive and framework to keep our environmental progress on track”, she adds.

One of the ten objectives which illustrates the process in action was to improve waste segregation on both sites. First of all, baseline data relating to the amount of waste generated on the New Thames site was collected. A waste reduction team was then set up with ‘waste champions’ in all areas of the business. A number of initiatives were then implemented as follows:

  • Awareness of waste issues was raised through briefings and newsletters.

  • Waste segregation was improved through the installation of well-marked skips and waste areas and skip inspections.

  • Office paper and cardboard collection points were installed across the site.

  • Separate collections for wood waste were instigated.

  • A light bulb recycling scheme was initiated.

  • Toner cartridges and aluminum cans were collected and monies raised sent to a local children’s hospice.

Another objective was to improve the effluent treatment capability at the M-real Sittingbourne mill. The solution was to install an Atrex Unit to recover the coating waste and allow its reuse as filler on the paper machines. Although this work is still in its early stages, data produced so far suggests that approximately 17 tonnes of material, which would have otherwise been lost from the process per day, can be reclaimed. This not only reduces the mills’ requirement for virgin filler, but also reduces the effluent load from the mill.

Primary effluent

Work continued during 2002 to transfer the treatment of primary effluent at Sittingbourne Mill to the Kemsley site, which has a dedicated effluent treatment plant. Additional equipment, including an extra clarifier, has now been installed on the Kemsley site. And transfer pumps, with increased capacity, have been installed and commissioned on the Sittingbourne site.

Looking to the future, M-real has a lot to be positive about. Kate Cathie refers to the introduction of a plant to manufacture board from sludge waste, which, if implemented, will convert M-real’s waste into a raw material. This, she states, will represent not only a new way of working but also a new philosophy for the company, as it strives to compete in a business environment which is constantly adapting to new and increasingly stringent environmental legislation. Going back to the NetRegs survey, it is also important to point out that Environment Agency chairman, Sir John Harman commented: “The pulp and paper sector has done much to promote recycling…” With its raft of ideas and new practices, M-real can count itself an established player on the positive side of this important industry.

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