Looking back at Aylesford Newsprints history certainly provides an insight into an industry that has faced numerous challenges and continues to do so in order to meet the constantly evolving environmental and legislative demands.
Albert E Reed, the founder of the Aylesford Paper Mills, bought a mill in Dartford in 1889 and then in 1894 extended his operation with the purchase of an existing mill in Tovil, five miles from the current Aylesford site. The Tovil mill was experimenting with recycled paper as far back as 1908 and this experience stood the company in good stead during World War I when supplies of Swedish pulp dried up. Waste paper collections were started and the mill produced newsprint for The Times with 15% waste, for The Morning Post with 20% and for the Mirror, The Observer and Sketch with 30%.
During the 20s and 30s the Aylesford mill diversified into the production of kraft and, although the firm continued to grow, the importance of newsprint fell. By 1933 it represented only 60% of total output. Despite this, Reed continued to grow, installing five major paper-making machines before the outbreak of World War II.
The Second World War brought many changes for the Aylesford mill, with joint managing director Ralph Reed, son of Albert, enlisted by the Government to become paper controller. While paper was not initially considered an essential war material, as time went by it was used in several ventures: in the manufacture of disposable auxiliary petrol tanks for aircraft; to form a complete tail assembly for the Sunderland flying boats; and even to manufacture parts of Spitfire propellers.
Despite this, the Government decided to halt imports of pulp from Canada and instead brought in huge tonnes of newsprint in order to reduce shipping movements. It was during this period the company trialled the use of waste paper as a pulp substitute.
By 1962 a new research and development building was opened at Aylesford and research was carried out on waste recycling and de-inking techniques. The emphasis on waste paper and recycling continued throughout the 60s.
However, the 80s brought a completely new era for the Aylesford mill. The high point was the de-inking programme, which led to the launch of 100% recycled newsprint in 1984. The process of transformation to a totally recycled product was complete and the mills success has centred on a 100% recycled product ever since.
Despite this, the 80s was a period of refocusing and realignment. Reed International decided to concentrate its activities on communications and publishing and sold off its manufacturing businesses. In 1988 they sold the paper and packaging division, which was the subject of a management buyout resulting in the formation of Reedpack. The outlook was good until two years later when recession took hold.
Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (SCA), a Swedish company looking to acquire a UK recycling operation bought Reedpack and in December 1993 joined forces with paper maker Mondi Europe to form the current Aylesford Newsprint. In 1994 a new fibre preparation plant was constructed and in 1995 the latest paper making machine number 14 came on stream.
As a company we have been at the forefront of paper-making innovation, says Chris White, Aylesford Newsprints commercial manager. The Aylesford Mill, whether as part of the Reed organisation or in its current incarnation, has been responsible for some of the most important innovations within the paper industry, and that is particularly true of the recovered fibre and recycled newsprint sector. We have every intention of maintaining this reputation for innovation. u