Case Study: Working with Fermacell to close the paper recycling loop

DS Smith has partnered with one of the world’s leading manufacturers of building products to close the loop and solve a shortage of raw materials.

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At DS Smith, we see waste as a resource. Everything we do is focused on providing innovative, effective, sustainable strategies that help to increase recycling and reduce waste.

Our De Hoop Paper Mill in the Netherlands has a long tradition of leading the way in sustainability. Founded in 1657, the mill now manufactures containerboard products from 100% recycled fibre, with a total capacity of 360,000 tonnes per year.

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Since 2014, it has collaborated on a project with Fermacell, a subsidiary of James Hardie Europe GmbH – an international market leader for fibre cement building materials. By thinking differently, we have been able to close the loop on thousands of tonnes of fibrous rejects, creating a process that benefits our customers, our business and the environment.

The Gypsum fibre board challenge

Fermacell has traditionally used paper for recycling (PfR), such as magazines and newsprint, as a raw material to produce their unique range of gypsum fibre boards. However, in an ever-changing world where content is now generally consumed online, these types of paper have become progressively harder to source.

In fact, a report from the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) shows a decline in newsprint of 6.4% from the previous year, as well as a 3.5% reduction in overall graphic papers over the same period.

As a result, Fermacell urgently needed an alternative source of fibre. First, we needed to answer several questions:

  • Are there further uses of Fermacell’s recycled paper fibres?
  • Can we cut down on rejected fibres?
  • Can used, wet magazines and newspaper fibres be recycled, re-extracted and re-used further?

The solution

Quality is at the heart of our papermaking operations. So capturing and removing contaminants such as metal and plastics from the raw materials entering our mills is essential in ensuring that quality finished paper products can be made from recycled fibres.

As part of the process to extract contaminates, some fibres are also captured and rejected. In 2014 we approached Fermacell to explain how we believed fibrous rejects could be used as an alternative raw material source in their production process of gypsum fibre boards.

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After extensive testing and adaptation of processes from both parties, a method was found to use extracted fibres at least once more and prevent them from being incinerated.

At the beginning of this project, Fermacell and De Hoop’s moisture parameters for fibre differed. For the mill, fibres were wet at the end of the decontamination process, but at Fermacell they historically used dry fibres. Due to the complexities of the papermaking process, drying was not a viable option for De Hoop. However, faced with a continuously poor supply of magazines and newsprint papers, Fermacell were able to adapt their production process to allow partially wet fibre streams to be used.

Fibre separation & dewatering process at De Hoop Paper Mill

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Fibres that have already been separated from other light rejects, such as plastics, enter the disk filters, blue. Water is extracted leaving the fibres slightly damp.

The fibres are then squeezed in the press, white, to extract even more water. Once they have been compacted, they are stored in containers before being sent to Fermacell.

What are the benefits?

We are constantly seeking ways to reduce waste, and by thinking differently, we have been able to defer useful materials from incineration. In doing so, the mill is keeping valuable materials in the supply chain for longer and Fermacell has partially replaced a scarce raw material with a low cost, high-quality alternative.  

Wouter Mensink - Senior Innovation Engineer, DS Smith Paper
The circular economy can only be realised when all businesses are willing to look outside their normal boundaries and are open to co-operation. I believe that there are a lot of win-win situations out there. — Wouter Mensink - Senior Innovation Engineer, DS Smith Paper

 

Jos Kraaijkamp - Project Engineer, Fermacell
Pioneering and finding new ways enabling to use this alternative fibre together with DS Smith has given me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction. — Jos Kraaijkamp - Project Engineer, Fermacell

Through this partnership, our De Hoop Paper Mill is diverting 100% of its fibrous rejects from waste into new products. Following this achievement, we are looking into the viability of extending this innovation across our Paper Division, supplying a network of Fermacell plants across Europe.

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