Yesterday I visited Kemsley Mill, the largest paper mill in the UK, as part of the research for The Rubbish Collection at the Science Museum.
Kemsley Mill was originally built in 1924 to produce newsprint. At the time its four paper machines were the largest in the world. Now it is part of the DS Smith group and the total annual production capacity is around 800,000 tonnes, making it the second biggest recovered fibre based paper operation in Europe. The 150 acre site (the size of a small town) is almost entirely self-sufficient, with its own energy from waste plant that provides electricity to run the place and then extra which it sells back to the grid. It also has its own water purification systems. Making paper requires an enormous amount of water. At stage 1 of the process, the pulp is 99.5% water!
The operation is massive. Just take a look at some of the cabling alone!
The main raw materials are waste paper, water, and a small percentage of ‘virgin pulp’ to keep the quality high.
On the truck in the picture below you can see some ‘wet lap’, which is actually 47% water. As Kemsley produce most of their own pulp, this is probably some of the virgin pulp that they buy in.
There is almost no wastage. On this truck you can see a sludge of paper fibres that are no longer of use to the paper making business. This sludge is high in nitrates and is sold to the farming industry to improve soil quality.
The waste paper is pulped and cleaned and spun and sorted into fibre length.
It is then mixed in the correct quantities depending on what product they are making.
And it passes around this giant felt band.
And along an innumerable series of rollers.
Before being wound onto a giant spindle.
Kemsley Mill makes five main products:
– White Top Testliners (which is a brown paper on one side and a white paper on the other, used for printed packaging and boxing)
– Brown Testliners (which is used to make the outside of cardboard boxes)
– Dual purpose liner / fluting (which is used to make the corrugated bit of corrugated cardboard)
– Standard fluting including lightweight (also used to make corrugated cardboard)
– Plasterboard liners (which comes in various colours and forms the sandwich of plasterboard with a gypsum filling)
There is a laboratory where they test the quality of the paper that they are producing. This piece of scary looking equipment tests the strength, density, tear capacity etc., of a piece of paper.
Once the giant reels of paper have been made, they are transported on conveyer belts to be stored in vast hangers until they are required by customers.
Colossal paper towers rise above you. There is something extremely satisfying and full of awe, about walking through these corridors of paper, all of which are living a second, third, forth, fifth or even sixth life. What, you may well wonder, were the fibres of these paper turrets doing in days gone by?