23 July 2019 Paper

Recycled paper in the recovery phase

The closure of ArjoWiggins’ paper mills has meant a significant loss of recycled paper capacity across Europe, but it does no signal the demise of this style of paper.

In the beginning was Cyclus. There were other recycled papers before this grade, but this is the one that has endured. At least until this year.

The paper began life as an office paper made at the Dalum mill in Denmark as the first 100% recycled uncoated paper available. The range was extended to coated papers and production expanded to included Reprint Deluxe.

A biomass generator improved the environmental profile of the mill and provided heat to warm local houses. Pulp was produced on an adjacent site. As brand recognition grew, the mill became part of Arjo Wiggins Paper and when Dalum was considered excess to requirements in 2012 production of Cyclus was moved to one of the French mills with pulp produced at the modern Greenfields deinking and pulp mill.

Now Cyclus, along with sister papers Cocoon, Maine, Chromomat and Satimat is no more, a victim of the ArjoWiggins bankruptcy and administration. The mill where Cyclus had been made has ceased production and while Greenfield SAS has been saved, it is now owned by Wepa, a German group specialising in hygiene products. The plant that provided the finest, whitest post consumer waste pulp in Europe is producing pulp for toilet tissue.

Some of the pulp is becoming available on the open market, but not enough to make a difference. At capacity the mill could produce 150,000 tonnes of recycled pulp in different grades of whiteness each year.

The loss of capacity has been a jolt for Antalis, the merchant that had been the route to market for ArjoWiggins Creative Papers. The corporate strategy had been to switch as much production as possible to 100% recovered paper pulp across its papers with separate branding and website to market Recycled-papers.co.uk.

Cyclus continues to be available, but only from legacy stocks which will not last long. Antalis has consequently been looking for an equivalent, since it became clear that production was not about to be restored. It has found it in Mondi’s Nautilus grade, and will sell Nautilus Classic and Nautlius SuperWhite HSI.

The company has been building stock levels ahead of a launch at the start of August. While this fills a gaping hole in the Antalis portfolio, nobody is pretending that recycled volumes will reach the point where 300,000 tonnes were sold in a year.

This had been because of a government led initiative to use recycled or part recycled papers wherever possible at all levels of government. The print team at the Department of Transport led the work to show that recycled paper at the time was a better bet with lower environmental impact than purely virgin paper.

As the recycling technology of the time struggled to deliver the whiteness levels that customers wanted, part of the recycled pulp was replaced by virgin fibre which gave the papers greater strength. It worked, but perhaps clouded the market.

Mills have always been able to reuse mill broke, the waste at the start of a run or waste lost in the sheeting area. Now they began to call this recycling, leading to a flush of part recycled papers using pre consumer waste. Printers could buy paper with different levels of recycled content, and where this could be verified by origin, could earn FSC certification for some part recycled papers.

The urban cycle of paper delivered to an office, collected and processed into new paper, was trumpeted as the future and much effort went into demonstrating how paper fibres would drift down the production system from high quality grades to lesser papers, SC, and eventually to newsprint and corrugated as the fibre could be used seven times.

It rarely happened then and doesn’t happen now. While recycling rates for paper in Europe are 73%, very little is resurrected as print quality paper, heading straight for newsprint or liner papers. But there is still a requirement for recycled papers, and post the ArjoWiggins collapse it has become scarce.

After Cyclus the great recycled brand has been Revive, introduced as a merchant brand by Paperlinx and after that business collapsed, acquired by Denmaur Independent Papers.

Denmaur sustainability and marketing manager Danny Doogan says: “There is still misinformation out there. Cyclus has gone but it’s not as if there is no recycled paper any more. Thanks to Revive we are the only merchant with a serious recycled offer with both coated and uncoated grades, including a Cyclus look alike. Revive Natural is almost identical to Cyclus, perhaps one or two points lower in brightness. And we have that, like other grades, to supply from stock.”

The loss of ArjoWiggins capacity has hit across Europe. “Lead times have become slightly extended,” Doogan says. “We are trying to buy ahead and making sure that our racks are full enough to cope with the demands. And if delivery is not possible for a couple of weeks, we are in position to offer the next best thing.”

There is, Doogan believes, a discernible swing towards the recycled product, helped undoubtedly by growing environmental awards linked to Blue Planet and climate crisis. Brands do not want to be seen acting against the environment. “There has been a bit of a reaction, but when you take out capacity like this, there will be a wee shift in things.

“All the infrastructure is in place to capture the fibre to serve the recycled mills, so for someone else to come in you need to check that you can provide that.

“We are very optimistic about the way the whole thing is pointing. There’s certainly demand for recycled and we think the industry will be using more recycled papers going forwards.”

Dave Jones, marketing director of Premier Paper, backs this up. “We have seen a lot of pressure on recycled sales and are trying in every shape and form to meet these demands from customers. Demand has been better than we thought it would be, so shows the part that ArjoWiggins has played in the market.”

Scandinavian group Lessebo Paper certainly hopes the rise in demand is not a passing fade. It has announced Lessebo Recycled as an uncoated grade that will be available in two white shades. “We see increased demand for recycled paper, across Europe. We have been getting a lot of questions from customers, now we can answer them,” says CEO Eric Sigurdsson.

The opportunity has come from the loss of the ArjoWiggins capacity, but Lessebo is not anticipating being able to replace this. Its first aim is to produce 10,000 tonnes a year, reels, sheets and ream wrapped.

A UK project for a recovery paper pulp mill has gone through all these logistics and is waiting on final approvals as part of a major recycling centre planned for southern England. There is no telling when this will happen.

In the meantime the graphics industry has to compete with packaging for this raw material. And it is easier and cheaper to make kraft and other packaging grades when whiteness of the pulp is not an issue than to go through a chlorine-free, bleaching process.

The disruption has led to shortages of recycled paper that those printers committed to working with recycled papers have noticed as what they want is not always in stock.

For the most part demand for recycled papers is falling because of improved credentials of more standard coated and uncoated sheets. That a premium of up to £100 a tonne, which has been too much to bear. The EUTR provided another level of surety on top of FSC or PEFC certification. And for those that have customers wanting to go the extra step there is carbon balancing, either through Premier Paper’s arrangement with the Woodland Trust or through the World Land Trust, administered by the CarbonCo and supported by Denmaur. All recycled papers are automatically carbon offset in this way, says Doogan.

This has been enough for many purchasers of coated paper which, provided the brightness is present, are scarcely distinguishable from virgin grades. It enables the client to declare the paper is made from recovered fibre, which remains important for some charities and other sensitive brands, but where carbon offsetting is enough of a gesture towards corporate social responsibility.

That paper is a fully sustainable product no doubt helps. There simply is not the imperative to reuse paper in the same way that aluminium cans are returned to use. And there are other outlets for recovered paper. The Palm newsprint mill in Kings Lynn consumes vast quantities as do the mills producing packaging grades, where food safety issues apart, bright white pulp is not needed. And demand for these grades is increasing sharply leading to continuing investment by paper and packaging groups like Smurfit of DS Smith.

It is a different matter for uncoated papers as there is no point in these replicating the look and feel of a virgin fibre product. Hence demand for ‘toothy’ uncoated recycled grades has held up, as designers like to exploit this characteristic. This will be where the future for recycled papers lies. In the early days, flecks of old ink were frequent and something that printers had to learn to cope with. Today a recycled paper sheet is a very different prospect. It should print well, should look good and should satisfy customers wanting that extra eco edge to their brochures and marketing literature.

By Gareth Ward

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