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More than a scrap of difference

Caryl Holland checks out plate recycling, in particular the EMR/Agfa/ Newsprinters’ solution

AS plate manufacturers often tell us – especially when they are looking for a price rise – offset plates represent a relatively small proportion of the cost of producing a newspaper.

 This does not mean, however, that used plates should be ignored even when it comes to their disposal. For one thing, aluminium is a valuable material: although prices have dropped from the peak of 2008, they are still at high levels historically. In addition, recycled aluminium is an extremely environmentally friendly material: it is possible to save 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide for every tonne of recycled aluminium compared with producing it by mining and smelting bauxite. Also, bauxite will not last for ever and the cost of waste disposal and meeting EU legislation is rising all the time.

A good example of how to make the most of the situation can be seen in the way that the used plates from the three Newsprinters’ (NPL) plants in Broxbourne, Knowsley and Glasgow are handled.

On behalf of Agfa Graphics, which has the contract to supply, image and manage all Newsprinters’ plates, the operation is carried out by European Metal Recycling (EMR) which won the contract at the beginning of 2010.

EMR was chosen from a shortlist of five companies for a number of reasons, explained Agfa Graphic Systems UK sales manager Roy Cowley. One of the main factors was that the company “offered the expertise of a big outfit but the customer support of a ‘family run’ business”. In fact, EMR – whose roots go back more than 40 years – has been run by three generations of the Sheppard family.

The company was rebranded European Metal Recycling following a major acquisition in 1994 and is now not only the largest scrap metal dealer in the UK, selling some 10 million tonnes of recycled metal annually and thus saving 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, but is also believed to be the UK’s seventh largest privately owned company, having an annual turnover of around £2.1 billion: as well as its 70 yards in the UK, EMR also has 72 in North America which have been acquired over the last five years.

The company’s core business is the recycling of scrap metal from a range of sources such as end-of-life vehicles and consumer products, factory off-cuts, and from the demolition of buildings and factory sites including printing works. Other services include industrial clearance, total waste management, ship breaking, solder production, cable, copper and aluminium granulation and environmental consultancy.

Nor is EMR a stranger to the printing industry. For instance, it was actively involved in the demolition of Fleet Street including the Daily Express building, and has been recycling litho plates since it was formed: today, in the UK, it handles in excess of 300 tonnes of aluminium litho plates a month, although currently the only direct newspaper contract is with Agfa for Newsprinters’ plates.

The large quantity of plates involved at Newsprinters and the fact that they were at more than one site were other factors considered by Agfa in choosing EMR.

“We needed a professional company to handle the volume of waste plates generated in Newsprinters and felt that EMR could amply handle the task,” says Cowley. He adds: “With EMR being a specialist metal recycler, they had depots close to each NPL plant and thus reduced the carbon miles involved in recycling the waste plates.”

Interestingly, EMR set up a bespoke system for collecting Newsprinters’ plates. This involves putting them down a chute into a stillage once they have been taken off the presses.

The plates are then tipped into a large roll-on, roll-off lidded container. This has been specially designed and constructed by EMR to enable the plates to be transported economically to its nearest processing yard. Here, the plates are compressed and bricketted to maximise haulage efficiency for onward transportation and to make them ready for more efficient charging to the furnace at their final destination: although there are a few small bespoke secondary alloy manufacturing plants in the UK, aluminium manufacturing these days is a global business and the bulk of the plates are exported to larger facilities in Germany and Asia.

The company’s 70 yards in the UK are based around the major conurbations, says Mark Priestman, director of the non-ferrous division of EMR.

“Rather like supermarkets, we tend to follow the population although we operate in reverse in that we receive scrap from multiple suppliers and distribute it internationally to a few consumers,” he says.

Consequently, the more yards there are, the nearer they are to the scrap suppliers and, hence, the lower the carbon footprint. Priestman believes this gives EMR a significant advantage. He says: “Our size gives us economies of scale as well as efficient access to the international markets.”

And he explains: “We collect the plates in large lorries but, even so, they can only handle between 4.5 and six tonnes due to the low density of the material.

“With the lorries running at around 12 miles to the gallon, you don’t want to have to transport the plates very far which, being a national based rather than a local company, we don’t have to do.”

However, having been bricketted at the nearest yard, one lorry can then take more than 25 tonnes of plates, resulting in fewer journeys to the aluminium manufacturers.

Priestman adds: “We run a fleet of more than 400 dedicated vehicles, all satellite tracked with all material being weighed on certified weigh bridges and all our yards being CTV monitored and recorded.

“We have also invested heavily in business systems that comply with EU legislation regarding the shipment of waste products and give complete transparency to the movement of scrap from cradle to grave.

“In addition, the systems automatically show what has been delivered anywhere in the country and can provide customers with the relevant data as well as automatic self billing.”

In other words, as Cowley points out, the company provides “accurate and auditable records which is very important to us as we ‘own’ the waste in NPL”. Indeed, this is also important to every newspaper printer in the current economic situation when every penny counts.

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