James Cropper has been in the small village of Burneside in the English Lake District. The first James Cropper established the company in 1845, and it has been continuously run by members and relatives of the Cropper family ever since. Our current chairman, Mark Cropper, is the sixth generation of family to be involved in the business. We have been a paper maker for the whole of that time.
Over the history of the company, there have been a lot of developments in what we do and how we do it. Today, we make very high quality bespoke papers in small quantities. So the question we try to answer for our customers is not ‘What is our product range’, but ‘What do you want?’
Alongside that, we have two businesses that grew out of the paper making business. James Cropper Converting is closely connected to papermaking. It makes very large format, thick board; the original markets for this were display board, used for point of sale advertising, and passepartout, used for picture surrounds. We also have a very successful business in large digital boards; these allow stores to print their own advertising material for use in store on site.
Finally, we have our Technical Fibre Products business. This makes wet laid non-wovens – that is sheet material made from non paper making fibre but using paper making technology. So we make material for defence, for air space, for automotive, for fuel cells. This is a completely different market when compared to traditional papermaking.
Why was James Cropper a pioneer in the sustainable development?
A lot of our interest in sustainable development comes out of our history actually. We are in a very attractive part of our country, which is very heavily protected. In the recent past, the desire for a recycled content in luxury paper has grown. What we have done is to put a lot of time, effort and investment into coming up with solutions that mean we can make the same quality of product but with a high recycled content generated by our own process.
Now, you use the fibres of disposable cups to make papers. How long did it take to get a good quality material?
It took about four years of development to create the process and get a suitable stream of material to fit into it. We didn’t start with assuming we would recycle disposable cups. We set out saying we need to make the same paper we make now but with a higher recycled content, and that’s quite a challenge. We looked at all the sources of recycled material that we could bring in to the mill and that were already available to be used in paper, but none of them were of a quality that was suitable for our use.
So, we then realised that we would have to develop our own recycling process. We investigated lots of sorts of raw material and lots of processes; what matched up and worked, and gave us the quality was disposable cups with the right process.
What do you produce with those disposable cups?
To put some numbers around in this, we make around 45 000 tons of paper in a year, and the cup recycling plant can produce up to 10 000 tons of raw material for that. So there is the potential for about 20 % of everything we make to be cup material.
How did you get this idea to use disposable cups in the process of making Luxury Papers?
The idea came from through the route I described before briefly. We realised that we needed to be able to offer this to our customers because recycling is important to everybody, but found that we could not get this material simply by buying recycled material in. We had to find a way of doing it ourselves, and we then had to find the right material. Disposable cups turned out to be the best available source of that material. In the cup, we have 80 % or 90 % recovery of the fibre that we used in our paper products. We also have two other materials that we get out of this, we get the polyethylene or plastic layer, and a deinking material. The deinking material is used as animal bedding, whilst the polyethylene is burnt in a Waste to Energy plant. So what we have at the moment is a zero waste to landfill process. What we want to get to is a process where everything is reused in another products, so we are looking for alternative routes to recycle the Polyethylene. At the moment 90 % of the cup material is recycled into products, we want to get to 100 %.
Do Luxury Brands really want recycled material in their products?
In many cases, it has been asked for; they want to show that the sustainability is important to them and they know it is important to their customers. In many cases actually the question is not whether it is wanted but can we put in more?
In the future will it be possible to use more waste material in the making of Luxury Papers?
It is possible to make a 100 % recycle sheet and we have done that. The challenge again is in meeting all the requirements of the product so it very much depends on the specification and the appearance required for that product. There’s no technical barrier to doing that.
The Queen inaugurated your new location last July. Can you say a few words about that event?
The recycling plant that converts the cups back into usable material was officially opened by the Queen in July 2013, which was really a great testament to the success of the project after five years of very hard work by a team at James Cropper. It was a great event actually. We had two thousand people on site; every employee could bring relatives to share in the day.
What kind of relationship can be linked between the CNE and James Cropper?
James Cropper, as a producer of very specialized, small quantities of material that meet precisely customer’s requirements, has to be completely in touch with what the customers really want. What an organization like CNE does is provide a way for us to talk directly to those customers. The people the CNE deals with can clearly express what they want to see in their packaging and that is really valuable for us, to enable us to provide products that are really wanted into this market. So I think there’s a great deal of commonality. What CNE wants to see is the right materials and the right approach to packaging being taken, that meets the customer’s requirements but also provides sustainability. What we want to do is provide that. It’s a clear link.