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Pulp fiction

These are not easy times for local authorities. The drive to increase UK recycling levels means there is a demand for not only the introduction but also the expansion of collection schemes. Tonnage and targets have become the measures of success for any self-respecting council. But quantity, it seems, is no longer enough. The quality of the materials collected is becoming a contentious issue, particularly within the paper industry, which is becoming increasingly concerned that co-mingled collections are failing to produce the standards needed for recycling.

The bottom line is that low quality leads to rejection and non-payment. Co-mingled may be the cheapest method of collection but industry figures are worried that the quality of what comes out the other end cannot be guaranteed. According to Peter Mansfield, operations manager at Abitibi Consolidated, the raw material collected from co-mingled is not meeting the firms specification.

As a general rule for paper, there is a 2% tolerance of other materials. This may vary mill to mill and products such as carbon paper present other problems but 2% remains the guide. Mixing recovered paper with other materials can leave it contaminated with card and packaging, plastics and plastic film, glass fines and food and chemical residue.

According to Mansfield, the collection trend in Scotland and the south of England tends to be co-mingled, while the Midlands and the north are opting for source segregated Abitibis preferred method of collection. However, local authorities that are choosing co-mingled argue that it is not only cheaper but, in terms of marketing, it is easier for the public to understand what is expected as all recyclables either go in a box or wheeled bin. Both of these arguments are absolutely true, says Mansfield. But if you look at the cradle-to-grave analysis, source segregated is much cheaper and if you are supplying an inferior product, you wont get top dollar. The Far East is also expressing concerns about paper from co-mingled collections, which shows that this is not just a UK or European issue.



Research

Mansfield believes that local authorities that go down the co-mingled route have not done sufficient research into what the end-user wants. In this industry we are the consumer we want the raw material and have a right to say exactly what it is that we want. A lot of local authorities have not made this connection. They are focused on targets and penalties, and lose sight of what the customer needs, he says. It is important for local authorities to do their research into what system they are using and why. We dont want to be prescriptive and will provide options and alternatives, but the reason we say this is because we have learnt from bitter experience.

Various operators and local authorities have spent millions of pounds on material recycling facilities (MRF) but, with high throughputs, Mansfield is concerned that even they cannot guarantee the paper quality needed. With technology it is often the case that over time more and more bells and whistles are added, he says. Expensive kit is being put into MRFs to clean up the materials but often it still cant get the paper clean enough for the mills. We are concerned that MRF operators are expecting end-users to pay a premium price because the material was so expensive to sort, but we will only pay a premium for quality.

One option that Abitibi puts forward to local authorities is dual stream as it can go a long way to solving some of these difficulties. But as kerbside becomes more prolific, Mansfield believes that the problems associated with co-mingled are highlighting themselves and Abitibi is now ready to increase its stance on this subject by launching a PR campaign to get the message out to local authorities. Ultimately, the UKs newsprint market is one of the most competitive in the world with the specifications set by customers tightening every year and, as supply outstrips demand, quality will count for everything. u

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