Good to the last fi­bre, pa­per has a few good lives in it

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Investments - Jo Stud­dert

IF you drive down the Hume High­way to Al­bury, pos­si­bly over­tak­ing a truck loaded with used news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines, you’ll come to a lit­tle town called Et­ta­mo­gah ( fa­mous for its pub), where you’ll find the Al­bury pa­per mill.

It’s one of three Norske Skog runs in Aus­tralia with a com­bined an­nual pro­duc­tion of 900,000 tonnes of pa­per with sales worth about $ 1 bil­lion.

Norske Skog’s Al­bury pa­per mill is the only one in Aus­tralia that cre­ates newsprint. It uses new fi­bre as well as old news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines to do so, pro­duc­ing 265,000 tonnes of newsprint a year, which is sold back to news­pa­per pub­lish­ers.

The mill was built in 1981 and orig­i­nally made pa­per from vir­gin fi­bre’ — ra­di­ata pine trees.

To en­able re­cy­cling, the mill built a $ 135 mil­lion de- ink­ing plant in the 1990s and has been us­ing about 40 per cent of re­cov­ered’’ pa­per ever since to make new newsprint .

Wa­ter from the mill is used to ir­ri­gate an ad­ja­cent $ 10 mil­lion pine plan­ta­tion, says the Pub­lish­ers Na­tional En­vi­ron­ment Bureau, and waste ma­te­ri­als — the inks and clays ex­tracted in the clean­ing process — are given away to farm­ers for use as a soil con­di­tioner.

David Hicks, per­for­mance man­ager at the mill, says 180,000 tonnes of used news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines are road freighted to Al­bury from cap­i­tal cities ev­ery year — about 500 tonnes a day. The mill ex­ports 15,000 tonnes, and pro­cesses 165,000 tonnes. Pro­cess­ing elim­i­nates about 15 per cent of the orig­i­nal weight.

The fi­bres fall apart over time. An in­di­vid­ual pa­per fi­bre can go around seven times be­fore it falls apart and is no good for re­cy­cling,’’ Stan­ton says.

When the truck you fol­lowed down the high­way reaches at the mill, the old pa­pers are put into nine- tonne batches. We re­move con­tam­i­nants such as sta­ples, plas­tics, binders and glass, and then the pa­per is loaded into a pulp­ing ma­chine and ag­i­tated with soap and wa­ter. It’s like a big wash­ing ma­chine,’’ says Hicks.

The pulp, which is hot and wet, goes into th­ese flota­tion cells where the soap forms bub­bles that the ink sticks to and the bub­bles float to the sur­face, leav­ing clean fi­bre.’’

Th­ese clean fi­bres, (‘‘ they look like por­ridge’’) are then thor­oughly di­luted — one part to 100 parts of wa­ter — and poured onto an 8.5m- wide ma­chine bed which drains and dries it at high speed, rolling out 1540 me­tres of new pa­per a minute.

It is then cut to size and goes back on the trucks, ready for the next round.

Read all about it: Norske Skog’s newsprint mill near Al­bury

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