Birmingham, England’s last remaining paper mill, Smurfit Kappa SSK, located in the community of Nechells, celebrated its past and looked forward to a bright “green” future in June with a series of community open days organized in partnership with the POD, a community resource center in Nechells.
More than 300 visitors including school children, parents, toddlers and members of local community groups took part in a range of activities designed to raise awareness about the benefits of recycling and foster a sense of pride in the local environment.
Attendees also learned more about a landmark tree planting project, “Growing Up in Nechells: Proud Past, Bright Future.” Through the program, some 200 saplings will be given to local primary school children for planting in schools and parks around Nechells this autumn.
“There aren’t enough trees in Nechells so this project is about growing something for a future generation,” says local horticulturalist and lecturer Ken Whittaker. “That is what is important.”
Noran Flynn, director of the POD, the community base for Nechells Education Action Zone, says, “Children felt this was a very special project that would allow them to improve their environment and encourage others to look after community spaces.”
This year marks the 150th year anniversary of Smurfit Kappa SSK, and all visitors to the open days were invited to help plant a commemorative raised bed in a scheme which forms the initials of the paper mill’s Victorian founders, Smith, Stone and Knight.
“The schools and community have had a wonderful experience at Smurfit Kappa this week,” Flynn says. “They have learnt so much about the recycling that goes on right on their doorstep at the Smurfit Kappa SSK paper mill. Many people worked hard to organize these open days but it was well worth it as the message of recycling is now being passed around Nechells and will make a difference.”
Paul Freeman, operations director at Smurfit Kappa SSK says, “We wanted to engage with our community to help spread the message about the importance of recycling and to let them know what goes on behind our factory gates on their own doorstep. In addition to this we also encouraged them to get involved in our future joint project to improve our neighborhood by planting trees for the future. We have a proud past, we believe there is a bright future and we want to grow up in Nechells together.”
At the heart of Nechells for over a century and a half, Smurfit Kappa SSK plays a vital role in providing local employment as well as reducing the City’s carbon footprint. Almost 40,000 tonnes of paper and cardboard (collected from the city via Birmingham City Council’s blue box scheme and Smurfit Kappa Recycling bring banks) is recycled at the paper mill every year. It employs 110 people and produces 500 to 700 tonnes of packaging paper every day which is then converted into cardboard boxes by Smurfit Kappa’s customers. As well as the paper machine itself, the Nechell’s site contains two combined heat and power plants (CHPs) which generate nearly all of the mill’s electrical demand. A water treatment plant cleans the mill’s process water and produces methane gas to supplement the mill’s natural gas demand. The mill has become a net exporter of electricity to the national grid as a result of the installation of a gas engine which will generate power from the water treatment plant’s bio-gas.
The open day events built on the work already being done by Smurfit Kappa SSK to support educational and environmental projects in its local community. In recent years it has assisted with a regeneration project in the New Hope Community Park to brighten up a new paper and cardboard recycling bank with a unique montage and to create a small garden with fencing and decking.