Transparency all round

Simon Weston, Managing Director of Smurfit Kappa Recycling UK, explains why reprocessors are willing to embrace calls that they also get on board with increased sampling of material quality.

Simon WestonThe recent ESA request for greater transparency by reprocessors, in response to proposals contained in the draft MRF Code of Practice, was surprising and welcome: surprising because the information is already collected and available, and welcome because it means they have an interest in outcomes for their customers.

It has been the contention of the reprocessors all along that the best economic, technical, environmental and social outcomes for the secondary material supply chain will be achieved by controlling each element in the chain. The basis of control is measurement. It is the essence of efficient manufacturing and the foundation for responsible husbandry of energy and materials in a resource-limited world. 

Any legitimate request for greater disclosure by reprocessors gives all the parties in the supply chain an opportunity to show each other how and what they measure and to benchmark against the best to achieve a common standard of performance through the recycling process. Under the current regime manufacturers are, on occasion, being forced to pick up the pieces left elsewhere in the system. This is often neither economically nor environmentally efficient and favours particular elements in the chain against others. 

Those manufacturers reprocessing secondary materials typically undertake continuous measurement at all stages of their process to understand and control variation in system inputs. This is process control. It ensures their operation is monitored and managed. Process control is the basis of cost control and waste reduction, and the essence of running a profitable business. Without measuring, no business can know its costs or how to improve. Process control also provides for consistent production, allowing manufacturers to meet market needs by producing to known, prescribed product specifications. Finally, measurement and control provide environmental and consumer protection by preventing damaging events getting out of control. 

This article was taken from Issue 71

At a paper mill, measuring and controlling is what we do best. Paper for recycling is inspected and sampled for both moisture and contamination prior to entry into the process. Once in the machine, it moves through a cleaning process that removes solid contaminants such as plastics, tins and bottles as well as smaller contraries, which pass out of the machine. This is weighed and monitored because thereafter it becomes a cost to the business as landfill. Through the process, a series of sensors provides continuous measurement of key elements of production, and at the end, samples from each jumbo reel of paper are subjected to a number of tests to confirm their strength and consistency to ensure that every reel meets the requirements of the customer. Other inputs, such as starch and other chemicals are tested and certified before use. 

It is the expectation of modern industry and the society we supply that we make safe and environmentally-efficient products. Measuring and recording is at the heart of this. Sending inconsistent or contaminated products into any supply chain is risky at best, but with secondary materials it represents a lost opportunity as well. For this reason, reprocessors welcome the call for greater transparency in the secondary supply chain and are willing to participate because we think it will expose elements of the system where too little measurement is being done and too little control is exercised. The message is simple: “We’ll show you ours if you show us yours!”