“Our value chain has very complex product flows. In addition to raw materials, business partners are continuously providing legal statements in response to market-specific issues, and are sharing information about voluntary commitments,” explains Sabine Vogt, Expert Product Stewardship Dispersions & Resins, BASF.
“There is a huge difference in terms of whether the paper is used for print media or food packaging. Regulations can vary from a country to country and questions and answers can be interpreted in different ways, making the story very complex.”
To tackle this issue, the parties have harmonised and automated the flow of information between chemical suppliers and paper and pulp manufacturers.
“Since 2016, all involved parties have been working on a harmonised document that includes the most important questions and answers of each industry. Currently we are integrating the information into the platform which is planned to be operational by mid-2018,” Vogt continues.
Speeding up the exchange of information
According to Safety Manager Kaisa Herranen, this cooperation is of mutual benefit to both UPM and its customers. UPM has been a member of the working group consortium since the very beginning.
“Chemicals used for paper making are usually mixtures that include several substances. Each paper manufacturer has unique products with specific raw materials. In addition to regulatory compliance requests, we have to answer to our customers if certain chemicals include, for example, GMO or animal based raw-materials,” Herranen explains.
“The Material Safety Data Sheet does not include this type of information. As a result, we need to research and collect the information manually from several sources. This process is time consuming and has to be done by hand. Thanks to the new platform, we can serve our customers more quickly and precisely,” Herranen adds.
“In terms of product safety, we utilise the safety information provided by suppliers and our Restricted Chemical Substance List (UPM RSL) which includes some 6000 chemicals.”
“Based on these declarations and individual verifications, we are ensuring that that our pulp, paper and plywood production complies with the tightest international regulations and that our products are safe to use. Our customers can consult the UPM Product Safety Profile that can be found through the UPM Certificate Finder,” she says.
Mutual benefits for all participants
Currently, 16 group members have agreed to use the platform. In addition, CEPI (the Confederation of European Paper Industries) and EPCG, the official association representing companies manufacturing auxiliaries for the pulp and paper making industry, have been contributing to this work.
Vogt highlighted that the platform will clarify a complex process and brings benefits to both parties. “Now we have a comprehensive understanding of the type of information that manufacturers really need and how raw material suppliers can help them.”
“In my view, this will be the most comprehensive questionnaire for all stakeholders in the value chain,” she confirms. The harmonised questionnaire will cover subjects such as regulatory status, food contact compliance, eco-labels and other relevant regulations or market requirements for paper.
“As a raw material supplier, I will only need to complete the questionnaire once for the product, and then I can allow all my customers to view the statement. On the platform I can immediately provide exact information on the product for all my customers at the same time,” she adds.
Currently, the focus is on the European market. However, the questionnaire also includes global regulations. “There are differences, particularly in the area of food contact in the US, but also in China and other Asian markets, so I am confident that the platform will also be useful for other markets.”
For now, the platform is restricted to raw material suppliers and paper and pulp manufacturers, but in future it could extend to cover further parts of the supply chain such as converters, in addition to other industries such as adhesives and printing.
Vogt is calling for companies outside the group to contribute to the work. “We are aware that several companies are working with their own questionnaires and in-house data systems. However, they could work with us instead, either with the content or using the platform through an interface. I am confident that when companies hear about the benefits of this approach, they will be more convinced about taking part.”