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Ahead of the Curve


Karis Copp takes a special trip to Italy to the Cartiere del Garda mill owned by Lecta to see how the company is strides ahead of the competition in its sustainable practices

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'No Wonder You Love Paper' competition winners were treated to an educational guided tour of Cartiere del Garda

A stunning setting for sustainability

Against the backdrop of the sprawling Dolomites, the Cartiere del Garda mill serves as a shining example of environmentally-friendly paper production, not just drawing on the natural resources of its stunning surroundings, discharging treated process water into Lake Garda itself, but using the energy produced to provide power for the citizens of Riva del Garda. My trip to the region to visit the mill, organised by paper manufacturer Lecta and print and paper champion Two Sides, was a masterclass in sustainability, innovation, and the wonder of nature.

Cartiere del Garda produces around 350,000 tonnes of paper, and uses an advanced water treatment system that consists of an initial chemical-physical stage followed by a biological stage that was referenced earlier, whereby treated water is dispensed into the lake in adherence to regulations.

Lecta’s manufacturing capacity reaches close to two million tons, and the manufacturer and distributor is an industry leader in the production of paper for the labels and packaging market, as well as paper products for commercial printing and the publishing sector.

The visit to see the mill in action was part of a competition organised by Two Sides as part of its ‘No Wonder You Love Paper’ campaign, a global initiative that informs and educates the public on the sustainability story behind print and paper.

The competition winners and I were treated to a guided tour of the mill, where technology and research and development manager Mauro Ratto talked us through the features of the mill. Ratto explains: “At the moment, we are producing around 1,100 tonnes of paper per day. This means that in this mill we have to move 1,100 tonnes of raw material in and the same amount of paper out.

The mill produces around 350,000 tonnes of paper

“Obviously you can see that we are in the middle of Riva del Garda! It’s a tourist area with a lot of European holidaymakers, and we are in the middle of an area with lots of pizzerias, restaurants, and residents. One of the most difficult things is to survive as an industry in the middle of a tourist area such as this.
“We have spent many millions of euro to reduce the noise because we have lots of houses and residents. And people don’t want noise during the night. We are working 24 hours a day, so all the machinery we have inside this building never stops. We run something like 325 days per year, 24 hours a day.”

We are working 24 hours a day, so all the machinery we have inside this building never stops. We run something like 325 days per year, 24 hours a day

Sustainable future
It is not just noise pollution that the mill is dealing with—actual pollution is an inevitable factor, and for an environment-themed trip, it was important to convey the steps Lecta takes to combat this. Ratto continues: “In recent years, we have spent a huge amount of money to reduce the environmental impact of this mill as much as possible, which means that we have a very efficient waste water treatment plant, and a very efficient treatment of all the gas emissions.

“In 2008, we built a very modern cogeneration plant, which produces all the energy we need for the mill, but not only the mill, it also heats Riva del Garda. So we stopped something like 170 big boilers in Riva del Garda and we heat the water. This way, we have been able to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions.”

In 2008, we built a very modern cogeneration plant, which produces all the energy we need for the mill, but not only the mill, it also heats Riva del Garda

An engaging and informative speaker, Ratto manages to boil the necessities of the intricate paper-making process down to three ingredients: energy, raw materials, and people.

The thermal energy from the mill provides heat and hot water to the residents of Riva del Garda

He elaborates: “When considering a paper mill, you must consider that it is an industry that needs a huge amount of energy. Energy is for sure electrical energy, but also thermal energy, because when you produce the paper, you have to dry the paper. So, electrical energy could be from the grid, but the thermal energy is not. You can’t buy steam—you have to produce it yourself. In every paper mill in the world you will find a boiler to produce the steam. In our case we decided to start the cogeneration plant, which means it generates all together.”

Powered by nature

Next, raw materials. Ratto could not stress the importance of water enough, and of course, that is something Cartiere del Garda has in abundance—and it just happens to be one of the most picturesque bodies of water on the planet.
“If you consider that at this mill, we are moving something like 900,000 cubic metres of water per hour; a huge amount of water,” Ratto explains, adding: “Most of this is recycled inside the system. At the end, to produce 1kg of paper we need something like 12kg of water. This is why you will not find any paper mills in the Sahara Desert—you need water! So, paper mills are always close to rivers, lakes, large areas of water.”

Cartiere del Garda has spent millions on reducing its carbon footprint in recent years

Last but not least, of course people are an essential element, as Ratto tells us: “In this mill we have something like 500 direct employees and something like 500 indirect employees. This means that this is definitely the biggest industry in the valley and one of the biggest in the region.”

After an in-depth initiation into Cartiere del Garda’s papermaking process, competition winners were treated to a guided tour of the historic town of Malcesine and Riva del Garda itself, with cobbled streets bustling with street artists, market stalls, and traditional Italian eateries offering al fresco dining with a stunning view of the lake itself.
The following day, it was off to continue the environmental theme of the trip with a visit to the Adamello Brenta Nature Park, a protected reserve supported by Cartiere del Garda, helping to conserve and champion the landscape that plays such an integral part in the region’s industry.

Cartiere del Garda has further affirmed its commitment to safeguarding the area’s natural habitat by supporting the Life Ursus project, reintroducing brown bears to the Dolomites and funding a three-year scholarship for research on bear conservation.

The competition was described in the entry guidelines as a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip, and it certainly delivered on that promise. One of the biggest surprises was just how much the industry does for the region and its inhabitants, proving that a ‘give back what you take out’ approach to sustainable paper production can, and does, work harmoniously.

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