First published in Cleantech magazine, Volume 6 Issue 6. Copyright Cleantech Investor Ltd
By Denis Gross
Paper mills illustrate the importance of water in industrial processes, and recent innovations demonstrate the lengths to which paper manufacturers have gone to reduce the environmental impact of their processes. Steinbeis, based in Gluckstadt, Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, is a leader in the sustainable production of recycled paper and produces around 270,000 metric tons per year of high quality, eco-friendly office and magazine paper (in almost equal amounts). The process can recycle paper up to more than 20 times as office copier or magazine paper – significantly greater than the industry norm of around eight times – after which it is used as compost or burnt, with the ash used for fertiliser or filler for concrete.The increased amount of recycling that Steinbeis can achieve stems from the particular way of deinking the repulped recovered paper in the flotation phase, which consists of removing hydrophobic particles (particularly ink particles) by floating them up to the surface with air bubbles in large tanks of water. This process can remove ink particles while keeping the fibres alive, with any waste arising from deinking providing a fuel source for the paper mill.
Water is crucial to the production of paper, and is used in large quantities throughout the pulping and papermaking process. Overall, since 1994 the paper industry has reduced annual water consumption by over 14% per year. Improvements in wastewater treatment technology and the re-use of processed water and additives have reduced the volume of effluents returned to rivers and estuaries.
Originally founded in 1911, Steinbeis was a pioneer in converting to eco-friendly paper production as long ago as 1976, and subsequently established the most advanced processing facility for recovered paper in Europe in 2005. In 2010, an on-site CHP plant began operation, and more recently, in 2012, the company received planning permission for three on-site wind turbines, further enhancing the site’s sustainability credentials. Over the past ten years, Steinbeis has invested approximately €280 million to achieve a fully integrated paper production facility, and is arguably the most advanced recovered paper processing plant in Europe.
Steinbeis’s zero-waste recycling model utilises four integrated cycles: the sorting and treatment of recovered paper; an integrated water cycle using only surface water; on-site energy production and consumption; sorting and recycling residual products.
The impact of the recycling process can be judged when considering a ream (500 sheets) of office paper. Compared to manufacturing a ream of paper from timber (virgin paper), the Steinbeis process can reduce water consumption by 83%, energy by 72%, carbon by 53% (and timber by 100%). Similar significant reductions can be achieved in magazine paper production.
Banner Closed Loop copier paper
UK-based Banner Business Services (a part of Office2Office plc) is a leading supplier of office products and services and an important customer of Steinbeis through its Closed Loop copier paper product. Closed Loop is an innovative service which recovers paper waste from customers – confidential papers which will be securely shredded, pre-shredded paper and general waste paper – before sending it to the Steinbeis mill. The paper waste is recycled and manufactured into Banner 100% recycled Closed Loop copier paper, which is then delivered back to the customer.
Banner’s customers include the MoD, DEFRA, The Cabinet Office, Virgin Media, major banks and financial services companies, and HMRC (HM Revenue & Customs).
The Closed Loop system was developed in 2010 in response to a Government initiative to meet the needs of organisations, including HMRC, who wanted to re-use their waste paper. This stems from the vast amount of paper that the UK Government uses annually – 73,000 tonnes, with HMRC accounting for one tenth of this. Banner was awarded the Central Government contract in July 2011. An important consideration was meeting the need for confidential data destruction, in addition to demands for greater efficiency and environmental responsibility. Confidentiality is ensured by a rigorous auditing system that is in place at every stage of the process, which also ensures that the recycled paper is returned to its original user.
Denis Gross visited the premises of Steinbeis Papier as a guest of Banner Business Services.