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Danijela Ošap, QA, R&D, Ecology And CI Director At The Umka Cardboard Mill/ Kappastar Group

Sustainable Packaging For A Green Future

The Umka Carboard Mill, a Belgrade-based factory producing recycled cardboard, has been using waste paper as a raw material for more than half a century. By using waste paper instead of virgin pulp, it helps preserve forests and makes saving on the energy and water usually required to produce virgin pulp, thus further reducing CO2 emissions

Since the KappaStar Group’s takeover of the Umka mill almost two decades ago, cardboard production capacity has increased from 40,000 to 200,000 tons annually, through investments worth 100 million euros, while waste paper processing has grown to 250,000 tons per year.

During 2021, the KappaStar Group invested around 40 million euros to improve production processes at the Umka Cardboard Factory, which operates within the framework the group. What did this investment enable you to do?

This investment, which represents just one in a series of investments in cardboard production made by KappaStar Group, enabled the greatest modernisation of production processes at the Umka Cardboard Mill since 1978.

The investment was aimed, among other things, at replacing the “core” of cardboard production, which provided an increase in product quality and enabled a significant increase in the capacity for recycling waste paper. Given the fact that 17 trees are required to produce just one ton of paper, with the newly achieved recycling capacity, we save almost 3.5 million trees annually.

The investment also made it possible to further reduce the specific consumption of wastewater, which has been reduced by around 30%. With the use of recycled fibres instead of virgin pulp, energy consumption has been reduced by 75%, water pollution by 35% and air pollution by a whopping 75%.

The Umka cardboard mill has a long and rich history that it is proud of, but a new era undoubtedly began at the plant in 2003, when it was taken over by the KappaStar Group. What has changed since then?

Since the KappaStar Group acquired the factory in 2003, numerous improvements to production have been achieved through various investments worth 100 million euros. A significant part of the investments that have been implemented aimed at improving the sustainability of production; that is to say, in addition to increasing the volume of recycling, these investments had a positive impact on improving energy efficiency and generally reducing the consumption of raw materials, through reductions in the specific consumption of resources, heating energy and electricity, as well as the consumption of fresh water. In accordance with capacity increases, 2022 also saw the obtaining of a new permit for the storage and treatment of waste, i.e., old paper.

When it comes to history, the truth is that we have reason to be proud, because the Umka Cardboard Mill was founded way back in 1939, as a factory for the production of cardboard with a cardboard sheet speed of just 20 metres a minute, compared to today’s 600m/min. Production was located on the territory of today’s factory complex, in a building that is now used for warehousing and administration purposes. New facilities were constructed in 1967, while a major reconstruction was carried out in 1978, when the product process took on its present form. This factory has been using waste paper as a raw material for more than half a century. And by using waste paper instead of virgin pulp, it helps preserve forests and makes saving on the energy and water usually required to produce virgin pulp, thus further reducing CO2 emissions.

Our country still lacks adequate sorting/ separating of waste at the point of origin. Does this lead to large amounts of paper being unusable?

The cardboard produced by Umka is mostly used – apart from in the pharmaceuticals and automotive industries, and in other branches of the economy – for food packaging. The old paper we use must therefore be of good quality, which means that it mustn’t contain impurities or additional moisture. It is for this reason that it’s particularly important for waste paper to be properly separated at the point of origin. Old paper mustn’t be mixed with other types of waste, because mixing can result in it being contaminated with leftover food, beverages or other waste, with which it loses its quality.

In the case that it is not recycled, paper, i.e., our product, is fully biodegradable and therefore does not remain as waste in nature

If the paper is moist or wet, the decomposition process begins also during storage. This prevents the further processing of this raw material through recycling with the objective of obtaining a new product.

Instead of being recycled, paper that has been degraded in such a way can only be incinerated or disposed of in landfill sites, and thus additionally contributes to increasing CO2 emissions as a product of its decomposition.

European standard EN 643:2014 stipulates the classifying of waste paper within five basic groups – from packaging paper to various forms of paper with special properties. The Umka Cardboard Mill mostly uses corrugated cardboard packaging to make the middle layer of cardboard, and since 2005 – instead of virgin pulp– the upper layer for printing has been produced predominantly from office waste. Additional investments in 2017 enabled the extracting of printing ink from white paper, it has thus been possible for the last five years to use waste paper from printing houses, i.e., to use paper containing multiple prints for the production of the white top layer.

The modernisation of production programmes has a marked impact on increasing capacities, but also on improving environmental protection. Is that also the case with your factory?

Over the past 20 years, the Umka Cardboard Mill has significantly improved its production and reduced the specific consumption of resources. The reuse of water and fibres has been enabled with the installing of additional wastewater treatment devices, and in this way the specific consumption of fresh water has been reduced more than fivefold. Fibres that are separated from process water in the internal circle are reused in the production process, while fibres from the external wastewater circle are also returned to the production process to a significant extent. Part of the fibres that nonetheless cannot be reused in production are submitted to the operator, which uses that raw material to make a new product.

Work is currently underway on a project to use this type of waste at brickyards to improve the insulation properties of bricks and tiles. Non-paper waste that is separated from old paper is incinerated at cement plants, and cardboard production waste is completely disposed of in this way, thus avoiding its dumping at landfill sites.

A trend that’s been increasingly commonplace in recent years is the replacing of plastic packaging with paper packaging, due to its reduced environmental impact. In the case that it is not recycled, paper, i.e., our product, is fully biodegradable and therefore does not remain as waste in nature. It is for this reason that we strongly believe that paper packaging is the future and that it represents sustainable packaging for a green future.

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