When it comes to papermaking, it is impossible not to mention Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) or consider its importance to the print manufacturing and publishing industries.

Its Gold East facility in Jiangsu Province, for instance, is the single largest coated paper mill in the world with an annual production capacity of two million tonnes. Many of its coated and woodfree products are staple stocks used by Hong Kong and China print manufacturers. About 270 kilometers to the south, APP Ningbo (in Zhejiang Province) is one of the world’s biggest producers of white boards, which print manufacturers use for book covers and packaging projects.

“APP has been able to combine both sustainability and functionality in our products for print manufacturers and publishers,” said Ian Lifshitz, v-p for sustainability and stakeholder relations for the Americas. “We have continued to invest in our infrastructure and run several of the world’s largest and fastest papermaking machines. So while mills in other geographies remain slow in investing in the latest technology—often relying on older and sometimes outdated equipment—APP’s new production lines have delivered better quality at lower cost and with lower environmental impact.”

To publishers skeptical of APP’s stance on forest conservation, Lifshitz said: “We announced our policy to stop clearing natural forests and move towards a 100% plantation model in 2013, and we have been doing just that by using fast-growing tree species to ensure steady fiber supply while supporting the protection of the natural landscape.”

At a recent APP tour, PW visited two mills (Gold East and Ningbo) as well as its forestry operations on Hainan Island. Here is a quick look at each facility, focusing on its impact on, and relevance to, the print manufacturing and publishing industries.

APP Gold East

The output from this mill, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, is around 80% printing paper. It also produces kraft paper, which is mostly used as wrapping paper for packaging products. Currently, two of its three papermaking machines are dedicated to woodfree production. The third, installed in 2005, is a Voith (with inline coating units) that holds the world record for fastest woodfree production at 1,800 meter per minute. With the inline coaters, it produces one-sided and two-sided coated stocks faster, cheaper, and more efficiently than older papermaking lines.

Sales-wise, 65% of Gold East output goes to paper merchants. “The other 35% goes direct to print manufacturing companies and converters, and this is a growing trend expanding th service to end users that has become more obvious in recent years,” said marketing director Shousong Pan. This jives with the rise of paper procurement initiatives, especially among multinational educational publishers, to keep standard stocks at their print suppliers’ warehouses, obtain better pricing through direct dealing, and maintain stable supply levels.

APP Gold East’s location near the third largest port (Zhenjiang Port) along the Yangtze River has been most advantageous for carrying in pulp for production and shipping out finished products speedily to merchants and print manufacturers. At present, half of Gold East products are for domestic markets (which include Hong Kong and Macau); the other half, for export.

Over the years, Pan noted that due to consumer preferences, some mills prefer to produce very white paper. “In China, the government has imposed a national standard for whiteness of paper for primary and secondary school textbooks. For coated stocks, the GE whiteness range is around 85% to 90%.” This standard comes after studies showing that very white paper strains the eye and may lead to lasting vision issues.

As for the recent paper price fluctuations, Pan said that “aside from the rising cost of pulp and latex, and higher shipping fees, one major factor is the higher prices of coal, which remains the main fuel source to power pulp-and-paper mills. The Chinese government, in a bid to control pollution through stringent environmental regulation, has imposed limits on the use of coal [based on mill capacity] and pushed up coal prices in a bid to promote alternative fuel sources [such as solar and wind].” This has caused the closure of many domestic mills with older machines and limited resources to implement (or revamp) their environmental management system.

Over the next two to three years, APP Gold East plans to increase its solar power production and build a gas turbine generator. So far, CNY 1.7 billion (or roughly $248 million) have been invested in dealing with effluent and gas emissions. Currently, treated effluent from the mill is used for a koi fish pond, a mini zoo, and surrounding gardens.

APP Ningbo

APP has two mills in Ningbo city: Ningbo Zhonghua Paper and Ningbo Asia Pulp & Paper. Combined, the mills’ five papermaking machines produce around 2.5 million tonnes of white board per annum. All machines have multilayer coating capabilities to make paper very smooth for better printing results. Output-wise, 60% is in sheets; the rest, in rolls. Toward the end of its production line, which is around 500-meter long, industrial robots from Kuka Robotics wrap up the rolls and prepare them for distribution.

Among the finished products from this particular mill are box boards for packaging, art boards for commercial printing and shopping bags, and duplex card stocks for playing cards. APP Ningbo is China’s largest producer of GCI blister board.

“In the commercial printing segment, print manufacturers in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong usually require stocks that range between 180 gsm and 350 gsm, mostly for book covers,” said Rebecca Zhang, general manager for sales and marketing at APP Ningbo, adding that “there has been no special requirement or demand coming from this market segment. We provide the basic product, and the printers will add the additional coatings and embellishments as required by their publishing clients.”

Meanwhile, regional sales director Pankaj Kumar Singh is seeing markets like North America going for lighter-weight boards, especially for FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) and food packaging. “APP Ningbo with its newer machines and multilayer coating capabilities is able to produce such lighter stocks. This means our mill requires less pulp to produce white board of the same thickness. In fact, on the average, for every four metric tonnes that we ship, we save one tree,” said Singh.

Hainan Jinhua Forestry

Eucalyptus comprises 80% of the trees grown in APP plantations in Hainan; the rest is made up of acacia. While acacia has a straightforward growing process (directly from seeds), eucalyptus requires a much longer and more laborious effort.

At Hainan Jinhua’s 500-square-meter nursery with a tissue culture laboratory, new shoots explanted from cultured eucalyptus trees (often the best hybrid) are placed in nutrient-rich jars to propagate. Germinating shoots are further spliced to create even more new shoots in a sterile environment. The rooting stage typically takes about 30 to 45 days. About six months from the initial shoot explanting, new plantlets are placed in biodegradable paper tubes and moved outdoors. Four months later, they are ready for planting at designated sites.

“Coppicing is also used to generate new shoots from stumps of harvested eucalyptus trees, and this method is much quicker,” said deputy CEO Wending Huang, who is in charge of APP’s forestry division. “Often, we will select one or two of the best shoots out of the many that sprouted from the stump. Coppiced trees take about four years to mature—to about 20 to 25 meters—whereas newly planted first-generation eucalyptus trees will take about six years to reach the same height.” Currently, APP can do coppicing for up to three generations.

Zero-deforestation and zero-burning is the policy, said Huang. “We choose eucalyptus because it is fast growing and resilient, and it loves Hainan’s hot and wet climate.” This ensures a steady supply of fibre and less environmental impact.

APP has around 68,000 hectares of forests in Hainan right now. Some it profit-shared with local farmers or owners, but mostly, the lands are leased from local communities. It is a symbiotic relationship, where the villagers help APP with land and tree management, and APP in turn ensures that they have the community support required—a water well, a temple, for instance—through its CSR initiatives.