From the walkway that runs above a moving conveyor-belt full of newspapers, the lorry in the near-distance looks quite small. Yet it still manages to be under the same roof as me, turning easily within one of the four huge bays that, each day, see trucks come and go, unloading their cargo of old newspapers and magazines onto the floor. This vast room is the Recovered Paper Store of the Aylesford Newsprint mill where a recycling process that each year sees 500,000 tonnes of paper made into newsprint begins.
CR ends up here too: either from home recycling and kerbside bank collections, or in the batches of leftover magazines that arrive from WHSmith’s, bookshops and newsagents every day. Below, there’s a single figure in a yellow jacket out on the floor. He’s there to check that each load of paper doesn’t contain any other rubbish (sometimes shoes, cans, bottles find their way in here). Too many rogue items and the driver has to take his collection elsewhere. A digger also hovers about, scooping printed matter from the mountain of paper that’s piled up against the far side of the room and transferring it to the conveyor-belt that shifts it on to the pulping machines.
This early in the recycling process, there’s even a specific recipe for each digger to follow. The mixture of paper added to the conveyor belt is kept roughly at 70 per cent recovered papers and magazines and 30 per cent “fresh” magazines (unsold copies collected from shops) meaning that this dose of “new” copies adds the required amount of freshness to the overall mix, as it were. The guy in the digger actually picks out seven scoops of recovered paper for every three of the unused material to make it.
This level of attention to detail runs throughout an extensive recycling process that’s been based on a site first developed in 1920 by Albert Reed. Production started at Aylesford in 1922 but Reed had already been using waste paper to produce small scale runs of newsprint for The Times and The Sketch at other sites prior to WWI. The reduction in imports of pulp from Canada during WWII saw Aylesford turn again towards waste paper as a viable substitute and, by 1984, the mill was producing 100 per cent recycled newsprint, eventually branded as Renaissance.
So while using waste paper to make newsprint isn’t a recent idea, the mill as it stands today bears little relation to its predecessors (although one of the paper making machines has been in use here since 1957). The processes have become more and more automated over the years and, while the machinery within Aylesford’s 80 acre site is undoubtedly advanced, there are aspects to it that still seem based on fairly simple principles. Once the pulp mix of paper, water and sodium silicate has passed through a kind of super-sized washing machine, for example, the substance is basically sieved for large contaminants (bottles and cans, free gifts etc) and then smaller ones, like plastics, glues and staples. Then the mixture has soap added to it (apparently it’s the best thing to remove the ink) and compressed air creates soap bubbles that the ink sticks to as they float to the surface, producing a layer of scum that is easily removed. Clever eh?
Further cleaning takes place (chemicals are added to brighten the fibres) and once the pulp has been squeezed between two woven nylon plates it starts to form a sheet of paper. Water is gradually removed and the sheet is pressed further until it reaches the seven-stage drying process: the final result being a paper with a moisture content of just 9% and the biggest, baddest reel of newsprint you ever did see. At 40 tonnes and 9.4 metres wide, it’s not called a “jumbo” reel for nothing. These reels are then cut into five or six smaller ones, depending on customer requirements, packaged up and transferred to the warehouse.
The whole process is so speedy that, having deposited your well-thumbed CR in your recycling the day of a paper collection, you could be holding some of it in your hands as little as four days later in its reincarnation as a newspaper. We like to think it’s what it would have wanted.
More details can be found at www.aylesford-newsprint.co.uk