23 September 2019 by Steve Eminton

Palm opens paper separation plant

Palm Paper has completed an £80 million investment to boost recycling and cut emissions at its recycled newsprint mill in Norfolk.

The investment, which comes alongside the 10th anniversary of the 400,000 tonnes per year mill at King’s Lynn, has seen construction of a Paper Separation Plant and a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) facility. Both were officially opened last week at a ceremony hosted by Dr Wolfgang Palm, chief executive of the mill’s parent group, Germany’s Papierfabrik Palm.

Guests from industry, local authorities and the printing sector were among those at the opening ceremony, which was addressed by Dr Wolfgang Palm

The £60 million CHP facility, which was operational last year, is said to reduce the company’s CO2 emissions at the mill by 80,000 tonnes per year. It also produces medium and low pressure steam for use in the paper machine and aims to “offer the mill stability and help with the economics”.

The Paper Separation Plant, which cost £20 million, has just started operations and provides a significant new outlet for the sorting of mixed papers (including newspapers) and cardboard from the local authority stream where these have been collected together, but separately from other recyclables such as glass.

And, a further investment of around £10 million is to fund improvements to the mill calendar, which smooths new newsprint for use in more glossy type of publications.

Recycling

Until now, the recycling arm of Palm Paper – Palm Recycling – supplied paper for recycling at the mill directly from local authorities, waste contractors and other sources for use in the production of 100% recycled newsprint at King’s Lynn through its paper machine, PM7. Now, with its own Paper Separation Plant, the company will also be sourcing mixed material from councils and the sophisticated equipment will be used to separate out de-inking papers – such as newspapers and leaflets – from cardboard and other non-de-inking fibres.

The cardboard is to be sold to UK cardboard mills while the newspapers and other usable papers (such as leaflets) will be sent by conveyor belt straight into the newsprint for pulping and use in papermaking onsite.

At the opening event, Dr Palm praised the local support for the plant from the Kings Lynn and West Norfolk local authority and from the newspaper publishers in the UK. He said: “Being here is one of the best decisions that I have made in my life” and in terms of supply of newsprint, he pledged that the mill would be “the last man standing”.

Reflecting on the development of the mill in 2009, he said: “We were supported by the press in the UK and we were asked by our customers in the UK ‘would we build a machine?’. At the time the UK industry was not in good shape, there were five machines and now we have just one competition and the other machine is a little bit older.”
(scroll left to right below to see pictures from the ceremony and Palm site)

Guarantee of orders

And, Dr Palm explained that while the mill received no financial support from the newspaper industry, it did get a guarantee of orders. He continued: “We have got their support over 10 years from our customers tonnage wise but at the market price. We are very grateful to our customers in the UK and their support has let us run the mill at full capacity.”

Importantly for the success of the mill in the face of the decline the number of newspapers sold, the mill has developed other grades of newsprint material for use in leaflets and supplements, such as the Culture supplement in the Sunday Times. This production of other grades has now reached 35% of output, Dr Palm explained. And, with the continuing fall in newspaper production, Dr Palm said he expected this 35% figure to increase, although he also expects a levelling out of the fall in newspaper sales.

He commented: “It is no secret the consumption of standard newsprint is going down each year so we had to look at ways to keep at full capacity even with the commitment of our customers. Now we are in a fantastic position to produce different products.”

And, the structure of the mill’s products tie-in with the lifetime of the paper machine which is 50 years, explained Dr Palm.

Two thirds of the output of the Paper Separation Plant, he added, will be deinking tonnage. But this will reduce as the packaging volumes increase, with Palm prepared for that as well.

Wolfgang Palm

Dr Palm said he sees more separation of materials at the kerbside as the way ahead for recycling

Supply safety

Commenting in more detail on the Paper Separation Facility, Dr Palm emphasised that Palm Recycling had supported the company well. The new facility “will bring in more safety in the supply of our secondary fibres.”

And, Dr Palm said that he expected the future of recycling to be dominated by the collection of different grades – “for the recycling to go into the next 10 years it will have to go into separate collections”.

He stopped short of directly criticising commingling but emphasised the new plant would not be for sorting paper from a commingled stream and that that for local authorities and collectors, “the economics are even better for source-segregated separation”.

And, Dr Palm cautioned: “As soon as you have plastics and glass in the fibre, the quality is not very good. As we try to produce the best quality in Europe, this plant has been designed for source separated collection. I strongly believe that the future is highly dominated by collections for all the different grades.”

Separate

Palm Recycling is already talking to local authorities, he said. “The future of recycling, you will have to separate at the household level. We are in discussion with councils to try and convince them to go to source segregated collections. We are talking to several councils and they are prepared to think about it – it is not only green thinking, it is an economic factor.”

“The UK started with commingled. Now is the time to start on separate collections.”

Dr Wolfgang Palm, Palm Paper

Dr Palm reflected on the UK’s recycling performance generally and said it was “extremely good” and that most of the material being collected is actually recycled. Putting a perspective on UK recycling over the years, he declared that “the UK started with commingled. Now is the time to start on separate collections.”

At the opening ceremony, Cllr Geoff Hipperson, mayor of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, praised the investment by Palm Paper at the mill and the company’s role in providing employment and training for apprentices. Local MP, Sir Henry Bellingham, also highlighted the investment and important role the plant played in the area.

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