From Seed to Sheet

Submitted by: Greg Selfe 2016/11/03

Two Sides, as part of the No Wonder You Love Paper campaign, recently ran a competition offering members of the public the chance to visit nine paper mills across Europe, giving them a unique opportunity to see sustainable forestry and paper production up close. The nine trips took place throughout the summer of 2016 and Two Sides joined one group of winners on their trip Mondi SCP's Ružomberok mill, Slovakia. 

Surrounded by a backdrop of breathtaking snow-peaked mountains, vast forests and crystal clear rivers, Mondi SCP in Ružomberok is ideally situated for producing paper. In fact, paper has been produced in Ružomberok for over 300 years. The abundance of the raw materials like wood, water, and energy has had a favourable influence on the development of the mill. In the early beginnings, the mill was located far away from residential areas, but in the course of urban development, the city has spread and the mill is now in the heart of the Ružomberok area, serving as the largest private employer in region.

Introduction to Mondi and the Paper Industry:

Upon arriving at Mondi, we were greeted by our fantastic hosts for the trip:

Susan Brunner, Sustainability & Marketing Stream Lead at Mondi Uncoated Fine Paper

Ludmila Ujmiakova, Regional Marketing Manager CEE at Mondi Group.

Martina Hlavatá, Communications Manager Mondi SCP

The visit started off with a presentation from Mondi. With the winners coming from all different walks of life, this was a great opportunity to give them an overview of the paper industry, explain how the supply chain works together and introduce the winners to the key sustainability parameters of the industry – sustainable forest management, forest certification schemes, renewable energy, recycling and water management. Mondi SCP's certifications include, ISO 9001; ISO 14001; OHSAS 18001; FSC™ - CoC Chain of Custody; PEFC.

Mill Tour

Following our introductory presentation, the group were booted-up, given safety helmets and high-visibility vests, and we began our tour of the mill.

Lead by Stanislav Brček, Department manager TCS (technical customer service) at Mondi SCP, we were given a fascinating tour around this huge facility - 1.5 million square meters operating area!

Mondi SCP is also one of Mondi’s largest plants and is the biggest integrated mill producing paper and pulp in the Slovak Republic, with a production capacity of 560,000 tonnes of uncoated fine paper, 66,000 tonnes of packaging paper and 100,000 tonnes of market pulp – making it one of the top 10 exporters in Slovakia.

Renewable Energy 

Of course, producing that much paper requires a lot of energy. But Mondi, like many other paper mills, are committed to working towards a low carbon economy.

After its latest investment into a new recovery boiler, the mill is 100% energy self-sufficient with over 94% of its energy coming from renewable resources.

The European pulp and paper industry is the biggest single user and producer of renewable energy in the EU: 56% of the industry’s total primary energy consumption is biomass-based. 

Because of significant energy-related investments across the sector, the CO2 emissions of producing a tonne of paper reduced by 21% in Europe between 2005 – 2014 (CEPI, 2015)

Sustainably-Sourced Wood 

The main raw material for making paper is, of course, wood. 40% of Slovakia is covered with forest, around 20,000 km2 in total, meaning the supply of wood to Mondi SCP is all domestically sourced.

To find out more about the wood supply to Mondi’s Ružomberok mill, on the second day of our visit, we all headed toward the forest.

Nursery

We travelled around 20 miles from the Ružomberok mill, to visit the nursery where every seed in Slovakia is processed –23 million seeds a year in total!

For this part of our tour, we were joined by Ludek Heralt, Slovwood MD at Mondi Group and Samuel Kozamek, a specialist at the OZ Semenoles nursery.

The nursery is run by Slovakia’s Ministry of Agriculture and its primary activities are the collection, extraction & cleaning, storage, and handling of high quality seeds from carefully selected areas of the country.

We were shown the entire process, starting with the cones being collected. The cones are hand-picked from the trees and the harvesters can pick up to 30kg of cones per day. The cones are heated and shaken to release the seeds from their protective cones.

The seeds are then efficiently but carefully cleaned, sized and processed using specialist machinery.

Once the seeds are processed, they can be stored in large refrigerators which can hold over 50,000kg of seeds.

Seeds are germinated in a large greenhouse on site at the nursery. By cultivating the seeds in the climatic conditions of Slovakia, the young trees are guaranteed to grow with immunity from potential domestic diseases.

These trees are 1.5 years old and will soon be ready to plant in the forest. All the cultivated trees are planted where the seeds were originally picked.

To the Forest

Now the winners and their guests had been shown how the life of a tree begins, it was time to go deeper into the forest and see the trees at the end of their lives, ready for harvesting.

Cutting and delimbing of the trees are carried out with power saws. Trees are delimbed mainly where felled. As much as 93% of the timber is hauled by tractors, mainly by special forest haulers. 3% of the cut wood is hauled by cableway and about 4% by horse.

Horse and Tractor

A number of domestic and EU laws and regulations ensure the long-term health of Europe’s forests. But these rules have been engrained in the minds of Slovakia’s foresters for hundreds of years. A good forester knows he must care for the forest and above all respect the forest. For it is the forest that provides his product and his income, so managing forests in a sustainable way is paramount. One forester we met referred to their profession as “Gardeners” -  a true testament to the responsibility these men and women feel they have to their forests.

But all the laws and regulations in place to protect forests cannot stand in the way of nature.

In November 2004, the Alžbeta windstorm hit the mountainous areas of northern and central Slovakia. The most affected area was Tatra National Park, where downslope wind damaged 12,000 ha of forest. The uncleared wood from the storm triggered a serious bark beetle outbreak, thriving on the dying trees.

Bark beetle are still a major issue for Slovakia's forestry sector, as Ludek Heralt showed us in this piece of bark.

Bark Beetle

Changing Perceptions

The competition was open to the British public and people entered in their thousands. The 30 winners, who were randomly selected, represented a wide range of typical consumers.

Our group on the Mondi trip were aged between 19 and 70 years old. The occupations of the group were just as varied, including a student, a lawyer, a librarian, a teacher, a supply-chain manager and a retiree.

The winners and their guests were asked to rate their perception of paper’s impact on the environment prior to their trips – 1 being the most negative and 10 being the most positive. The average score was just 4.

Following the trip, the winners were asked the same question, the score increased to an incredible 8.

Giving members of the public the chance to see paper manufacturing and sustainable forestry close-up had a hugely positive effect on their overall perceptions of paper and its impact on the environment.

Unfortunately, there are still popular misconceptions that the production and consumption of paper is detrimental to European forests, but in fact, it’s quite the contrary.

Over the past ten years, European forests have grown by an area larger than Switzerland – that’s more than 1,500 football pitches every day! Print and paper have a great environmental story to tell, and Two Sides, with help from partners such a Mondi, continues to tell this, and many other great stories about the sustainability and attractiveness of print and paper, to millions of people every year.

To read about the other trips, follow the links below

Following the Paper Trail - BPIF travel with the winners to Holmen's Braviken Paper Mill, Sweden

Education Boosts Perception of Print - Print Week travel with the winners to UPM's Augburg mill, Germany

A stunning setting for sustainability - Print Monthly travel with the winners to Lecta's Cartiere del Garda millGarda mill, Italy

Seeing the Wood for the Trees - Digital Printer travel with the winners to SCA's Sundsvall site, Sweden