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Embracing a changing paper world

AT A GLANCE:

Aylesford’s Andrew Perkins discusses:

  • How it is adapting to the changing paper market
  • Why quality still matters
  • The good work going into improving the quality at MRFs
  • Expanding its mixed paper sorting line

Last March, Andrew Perkins became head of recycling at Aylesford Newsprint replacing Chris White who had become an institution at the mill in Kent. I was keen to make the trip down to the mill to find out how he was getting on and he is full of praise for his former colleague.

“Chris stood for a lot of things we would seek to continue,” he says. “Chris White has left a good legacy here at Aylesford Newsprint and I’m pleased to be carrying on some of his work. The market has changed and the world has changed and we need to be part of that, leading on the front foot. One of the big changes has been that the price of recovered fibre has gone up dramatically over the last 12 months.

“That is something that has made us keenly focus on our costs and finding ways of doing things better, getting the right quality [of material] in, making sure that what we pay for we are getting, and not paying for too many non fibrous materials in the loads we are receiving here.”

“I really welcome the recent pronouncements from some MRF operators that are willing to actually admit that the quality of material that goes into them also matters.”

His predecessor was very vocal on the issue of materials quality, and while Perkins isn’t likely to be as prominent on this matter, he says that quality remains an issue.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get away from the fact that there is a hierarchy of collection style systems that give us varying degrees of quality. Right at the top end of the quality train would be the pre-consumed materials that haven’t been through the household for our best possible quality.

“Source separated collections tend to give us a nice, very good quality as well, and some commingled MRF-separated materials also give us a useable quality.

“There are however a large number of separation systems, and collection systems, that don’t produce materials of a quality that are useable. There are too many items that come with it. We are not talking about small percentile increases, we are looking at 10, 15 or 20% of the load being materials that we don’t want or can’t use and have to dispose of in other ways.

“That isn’t something that any collection or sorting system should be proud of.”

However, he is eager to stress that not all MRF-sorted material is bad: “There will be an increasing focus on the quality coming out of MRFs. There is a lot of good work going on to improve the quality coming out of MRFs and some are producing a nice quality. I really do welcome the recent pronouncements from one or two of the MRF operators that are willing to actually admit that the quality of material that goes into them also matters.

“That is a very fair point for them to make,” Perkins adds. “You cannot separate materials that the machines aren’t designed to separate. It matters that what is presented to the MRF is as required by that particular set-up. One or two of them are willing to say that a bit more publically than they have done before. I think that is very important.”

He adds that a perception exists that once you have got a MRF built, then the public can put whatever it likes in its recycling bag or bin and that the MRF will sort it. And he is pleased that MRF operators are now saying that the input quality does relate to the output quality of the material.

Other paper companies such as UPM and SCA have built MRFs. With Aylesford’s willingness to accept good quality material from MRFs, does it also have plans to build its own facility?

“Not for a MRF as such,”says Perkins. “We are not going to get into multi-material separation technology. But we have been running a mixed paper sorting line here for the last couple of years. It has been very successful. We currently run around 30,000 tonnes though it producing a nice useable quality from a mixed paper stream.

“So we are looking to expand that substantially into something that will include a little more automation. That will allow us to pull off OCC as a separate item, news and pams as a separate material and then a mixed paper stream. That will be here on site at Aylesford and we are probably looking to put in a capacity of around 150,000 tonnes. That is something we are actively pursuing at the moment.”

In some ways Aylesford is being squeezed both by having to deal with the quality of material it takes into the mill, but also in structural changes in the market it ultimately serves.

“We are in a world of great change when it comes to the use of fibre and paper,” he says. “In our particular world, physical media for transmitting news is in long-term decline. The exciting news for us is that we’ve found ways in which we have developed other applications for our paper. These are newsprint based of course – we aren’t changing fundamentally, but it has opened up new markets for us.

“We’ve run a few tests of the last few months and had some success with new markets. So we will be working harder on that aspect of the next 12 months and expanding those markets for us to grow into.”

This work involves producing improved grades of newsprint that can be used for catalogue papers, supermarket leaflets and other end products.At one stage, Aylesford Newsprint was looking into the possibility of building a new newsprint machine, but new entrants into the UK market and the weakened economy of the last few years ended those ambitions. What is Aylesford’s current thinking?

“It is not even on the backburner at the moment,” he says. “I wouldn’t even say it is going to happen in the foreseeable future. We still have the capability to put a new machine down here, we have the space, we have the power generation capability, but it is not in the immediate plans.”

Andrew Perkins CV      

He started working in the defence industry, at a cable manufacturing facility for the Royal Navy. He then ran a scaffolding depot in Wimbledon, London, before joining a mail order company. After that, he went to Biffa, where he got to know Aylesford Newsprint, which he joined in 1994.

The best thing to happen in my career was…

Joining Aylesford. I took an on the road sales job first of all, and I had never considered sales before, but I had a ball.

The worst thing to happen in my career was…

Making people redundant. Telling people that there is nothing wrong with their capabilities, but that the business can no longer support them, and having to take responsibility for those reasons, isn’t something anyone would like to do.

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