Filling and Packaging Industry Blog

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Key Employees can and will leave your Business, are you prepared?

Key Employees can and will leave your Business, are you prepared?

Very few businesses can claim to be prepared for the loss of key employees. Quite often it is an unexpected and unplanned for event that causes quite a bit of disruption to 'business as usual'.

It is quite a gut wrenching experience to see an employee you have worked with over a period of time leaving your business. Even if the parting of ways is on good terms with a period of handover, you just know that there is so much information walking out the door with your former employee and there is nothing you can do about it. And this is only just the beginning...

While labouring through a period of being understaffed and overworked you are then faced with the task of recruiting a new employee to fill the vacant position. This is followed by the inevitable probation and training period where, hopefully the new employee comes up to speed and is able to pick up where the former employee left off. The problem is: What exactly was it that the former employee really did? They always seemed to be busy and on the rare occasion that they were absent due to illness, there were those problems that arose that were only truly resolved when they returned and took control and 'cleaned things up'. There has to be a better way...

Fortunately quite a bit can be done to minimize the impact of situations like this on our business. And like most truly worthwhile solutions the steps required to complete this part of your business development does take some effort on your part. There is an established path that you can follow to get your business in order and the benefits to you and your employees are much farther reaching than just minimizing the impact of key employees leaving you. The following is by no means a definitive list of what is required. But it does give you some idea of the steps required.

1) Create a flexible forward thinking Organization Chart defining the positions you require in your business.

2) Determine what the responsibilities are for the positions in your business.

3) Assign Employees to relevent positions in the Business.

4) Document key information that is critical to your business and make it available to your employees.

5) Work with your employees to define what it is they do, how they do it and most importantly how it could be done better.

6) Record, optimize then implement the business systems you have identified.

7) Assign the business systems to the relevant positions and monitor their use.

By consistently following these steps for all positions in your business you will insulate yourself from some of the problems that occur when key employees leave your business.

Justin Woolich has been involved with Innovative Business Software for over 10 years. He has experience managing and running businesses in various industries.
Take your Business Development to the next level. Start a Free Trial of Business Systems Manager today
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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

KHS Metec provides filling level and cap monitoring for Underberg

KHS Metec provides filling level and cap monitoring for Underberg

Pleasant, agreeable, and quite unique in its appearance - this is an apt description of Underberg, the digestive herb beverage. It is a real personality with its attention-grabbing, single-serving bottle wrapped in straw paper. A personality with worldwide reputation. Today, about a million people around the globe enjoy the world's clear Number One in the single-serving bottle every day.

A unique taste experience


Like many interesting success stories, the Underberg story also began with a simple idea. In the early years, in the middle of the 19th century, company founder Hubert Underberg became acquainted with an herb elixir, which he particularly valued as a bitter cordial. Just one thing annoyed him: that pub owners diluted the mixer by eye with gin, as, due to the random mixture, neither the effect nor the taste were consistent. Underberg's clear objective was to create a beverage, which offered outstanding and consistent quality combined with the healing forces of the herbs, and which provided a successful symbiosis with modern production methods.

Herbs from 43 countries


The result of this was Underberg, which now as then contains selected and aromatic herbs from 43 countries that are carefully crushed just prior to manufacture. This much is known.

The Underberg recipe remains a secret


Underberg's recipe, on the other hand, is a closely guarded secret. Inventor Hubert Underberg set the standard, which has become a family legacy. Original quotation: "As the founder of the company Hubert Underberg, I look upon it as my first duty to keep the secret of the preparation of this renowned and beneficial drink to myself and my family." With Emil Underberg, Christiane Underberg and Hubertine Underberg-Ruder, the exact recipe of Underberg is today known exclusively to the fourth and fifth generations of the family concern, and to three Catholic priests. It is therefore also the family's task to select and mix the herbs to a harmonious blend personally.

The right amount of well-being


Underberg is made using the secret Semper Idem process. This special process guarantees gentle extraction of the active ingredients and aromatic substances from the herbs. Underberg then matures for many months in barrels made of Slovenian oak before being bottled in the special Underberg single-serving bottles, which have many advantages. The 20-ml single-serving bottle always provides the right amount of product for well-being. At the same time, the unique packaging provides protection against imitation. What is more, Underberg can also conveniently be enjoyed when traveling.

Development into an international, marketing-orientated beverage organization


Even though the Underberg brand has remained an important pillar for the company, the activities now extend well beyond the "original brand". The Underberg Group has developed over the years into an international, marketing-orientated liquor, wine, and sparkling wine organization. Underberg is today active both as a producer and as a trading organization. The group's activities are brought together in Underberg AG in Dietlikon, Switzerland from where the foreign business and quality management are handled. The group owns such resounding brands as Asbach, Xuxu, Riemerschmid fruit and bar syrups, sparkling wines Schlumberger and Blanc Foussy Unicum, as well as various fruit brandies (Freihof, Dettling, Zwack).

€500 million turnover realized with 1,000 employees


Including all its activities, the Underberg Group has worldwide sales of around €500 million per annum - with about 1,000 employees. A major part of this turnover can be attributed to Semper Idem Underberg AG, which incorporates all the German activities.

Berlin production facility - the "miniature bottle specialist"


German production facilities for the Underberg product range have been established in Berlin, Erding, and Rüdesheim. Foreign production facilities are located in Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, and France. In Germany, the main production concentration is orientated quite clearly towards the bottle size. While the "large bottle range" from the 0.2-liter size is bottled at the Rüdesheim location, Berlin is classed as the "miniature bottle specialist". The range of sizes bottled here extends from the 0.02-liter to the 0.2-liter bottle. The bottling of Underberg therefore quite clearly falls into the range undertaken in Berlin.

High-quality bottling equipment


In accordance with Underberg philosophy, equal importance is placed on the highest quality of bottling and packaging equipment at all production locations as on the best product quality. Thus, it was that shortly after an expansion of the production facility in Berlin and the associated move to a new site in the Heiligensee district in 1977, the decision was made in favor of three KHS bottling systems. This investment took the form of the first rotary fillers, which had a capacity that was very high at the time of 70,000 bottles/h. The fillers are running continuously in 2-shift operation to the present day and, according to Uwe Reisner, plant manager the Berlin site, provide "bottling results that are of just as high quality as on the first day, in spite of their age."

Revised single-serving bottle with new requirements for filling level and cap monitoring


Two of the bottling systems are used exclusively for filling the Underberg single-serving bottles. It was decided to invest in a new filling level and cap monitoring system, especially for these bottling systems. The reason for this was that the filling level and cap monitoring system previously practiced, which worked on the laser principle, was no longer suitable for the revised Underberg single-serving bottle shape, which is distinguished by the hexagonal shaped neck with integral Underberg logo instead of the cylindrical design.

Next to no error


Image processing had to be used in order to achieve precise monitoring. KHS Metec supplied the appropriate solution for this. Kirchner, Plant Manager, Berlin: "A solution, which impressed us from the very beginning." The KHS Metec Innocheck PROMECON 2000 system is connected downstream of each of the two "Underberg fillers", the capacity of which is 72,000 bottles/h, and, even with such a high capacity, it works with a nearly zero error rate.

Monitoring of up to 32 different bottle shapes and sizes


The Innocheck PROMECON 2000 is equipped with a PC base unit, camera, illumination field, and monitor. At present, the task is to check two Underberg portion-sized bottles, which differ slightly in the color of the glass. This can change on demand. A style memory allows the checking functions to be extended to up to 32 different shapes and sizes of bottle.

Maximum accuracy


Directly after the bottling and capping process, the Underberg single-serving bottles pass to the filling level and cap monitor. Here, the presence of each bottle is sensed, and only then is the appropriate picture of the bottle taken. In the Innocheck PROMECON 2000, a diode lighting field in conjunction with the camera recording provides information on the exact filling level by averaging three measuring points. This method neutralizes the effects of splashing. This results in the highest level of accuracy. The permissible variation range is set according to the appropriate specification. Everything is possible - regardless of whether the permissible filling level tolerance is one, two, or three millimeters.

One image, several tasks. As well as monitoring the filling level, the correct seating of the cap must also be determined with one image per bottle. The wall of the bottle below the thread is defined as the starting point for the exact measurement of the cap. All the necessary measurements are taken starting from this as a basis, and the cap height, as well as other characteristics of the fitted cap, are checked automatically.

After the checking process, "faulty bottles" are rejected by means of a special air nozzle. A special feature of the system, which was chosen mainly because of the high capacity. The bottles have to be removed from the production line quickly and accurately. The air pulse guarantees this.

Exact rejection of faulty bottles


A factor, which plays an important part in exact rejection, is the extremely precise forwarding of information from the image processing station to the reject station. Maximum accuracy when rejecting the bottles is achieved within the system by the so-called tracking of the reject signal by means of a pulse generator, which is mounted on the conveyor. This means that this pulse generator records the speed of the conveyor and passes this on as pulses to the control unit. Consequently, it is possible to say that each checked bottle reaches the reject station after x number of pulses. This is stored in the system.

Ready for integration into the production data acquisition system


Underfilling, overfilling, cap faults, separated-out units - all this information is registered and can be called up at the push of a button. If required, the details can also be transmitted to a production data acquisition (PDA) monitoring system without any problems via simple interfaces.

Modular design for maximum flexibility


A further important benefit of the Innocheck PROMECON 2000 is the modular design of the system. This means that the system can be expanded to provide even higher-capacity filling level and cap monitoring, and thus to the capacity of the Innocheck PROMECON 3000 or Innocheck PROMECON 4000 product lines. This is no problem for Underberg's requirements, which are currently limited to filling level and cap monitoring for just two types of bottle. If the circumstances should change, Underberg is on the safe side, however.

If it should be required to change to the Innocheck PROMECON 3000 or Innocheck PROMECON 4000, the inspection station, and thus the greatest part of the system, would remain, while other units, such as the evaluation unit and monitor, would be changed. The advantage of converting the system is the increased capacity, more memory, and communication via an ISDN line, which simultaneously provides the option of using ReDiS mobile.

Direct online help


ReDiS means Remote Diagnostic Service mobile and offers not only detailed analyses of machine and line components from KHS headquarters but also immediate online support if desired. ReDiS mobile consists of an easily transportable high-tech diagnostics case, which is equipped with a notebook, handy video camera, headset, and the necessary adapters for connecting the electronic machine components to the service case. Machine data can be transmitted to the KHS ReDiS Service Center using ReDiS mobile where extensive remote analyses are carried out. In a best-case scenario, a machine problem can be solved solely by accessing the electronic system components online.

ReDiS mobile components such as headsets and video cameras are used if mechanical components are involved. An employee on site picks up the camera system integrated in the case and aims it directly at the individual machine components. This enables the staff at the ReDiS Service Center to determine the mechanical condition of the machine. The customer technician receives instructions over the headset based on these image files regarding the necessary mechanical actions to be taken.

Comprehensive information


Examples of further options that are open if the system is expanded: Filling level checks can be associated directly with a particular filling valve. It is thus possible to detect which filling valve is associated with overfilling or underfilling. Likewise feasible: Filler productivity statistics, automated laboratory samples, and so forth.

Maximum reliability, simple operation


Ulf Kirchner, manager of the Berlin plant: "We expressly decided on a filling level and cap monitoring system, which includes high flexibility and leaves options open for the future. What is of prime importance to us today, however, is the high reliability of the system. We are so pleased with the reliability that we have decided to equip other bottling machines in the plant with KHS Metec filling level and cap monitoring systems." According to Uwe Reisner, an important additional criterion in support of this decision was also the simple operation of the system. Reisner: "A brief period of instruction is sufficient. The employees are favorably impressed by the simple handling of this high-performance unit."

A thriving culture of enjoyment and consumer safety is priority number one


Consumer safety is priority number one - with the KHS Metec filling level and cap monitoring system, Underberg is remaining true to a company philosophy, which has applied since the birth of the Underberg herb digestive, and from which consumers worldwide have profited. Today, people in more than a hundred countries appreciate the pleasant effect of Underberg. Distribution is concentrated on the areas of Western and Eastern Europe. Close trading relationships also exist with Asia, Australia, South Africa, and with North, Central, and South America. In all these places, there is quite a special culture of Underberg enjoyment. The stylish Underberg glass was developed as long ago as the 19th-century for this special culture of enjoyment, which, with a height of 24 cm, stands head and shoulders above all other glasses on a festive table. Which once again shows that an Underberg cultivates the appearance accorded by the uniqueness of its personality at every opportunity.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Pulp Mills and the Clean Technology Debate - Paper Industry Challenge

Pulp Mills and the Clean Technology Debate
Written by Raúl Pierri

The construction of two pulp mills in Uruguay has put this small South American country at the centre of the global debate among environmentalists, scientific researchers and large corporations on what is the most effective and cleanest technique for producing paper.


The first step in the manufacturing of paper is the production of wood pulp, a process that uses a number of chemicals and large quantities of water. Pulpwood is reduced to small chips that are processed into pulp to free up the fibres, which are dried and used to produce paper.

The sulphate, or kraft process, which involves boiling wood chips with caustic soda, is used to obtain 95 per cent of the pulp traded on the open market. It produces a strong pulp which, although dark brown at first, becomes white through a bleaching process.

The chemicals used in the bleaching process needed to remove the lignin, which gives the pulp its brown colour, include chlorine or chlorine dioxide, caustic soda, oxygen peroxide and sodium hypochloride.

Although the chemicals as well as the organic waste products generated in the process of producing wood pulp each have their own harmful effect on the environment, the biggest villain is chlorine and its derivatives.

The traditional bleaching process releases large quantities of organochlorines (dioxins and furans), which are two of the 12 pollutants singled out in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

This international treaty is aimed at phasing out 12 specific POPs, which are highly toxic to animals and humans; are stable and persistent, lasting for years or decades before degrading into less dangerous forms; travel widely through the air and water; and accumulate in the fatty tissue of living organisms, which means they can be passed along the food chain.

Exposure to these 12 toxins has been shown to weaken the immune system and increase the risk of cancer, hormonal imbalances, neurological disorders, infertility and diabetes.

Under pressure from local communities and environmentalists, the wood pulp industry developed a system based on chlorine dioxide, which releases smaller amounts of organochlorines.

The technique, known as Elemental Chlorine-Free (ECF), is currently the most widely employed, and is the one that two European companies - from Finland and Spain - plan to use in Uruguay in pulp mills that are scheduled to begin operating in 2007.

But Uruguayan biologist Oscar Galli, one of 60 scientists who signed an open letter of protest addressed to Uruguay's leftist Broad Front government, said "Scientific studies have clearly demonstrated that the pulp mills will have serious effects on the local ecosystems."

"The few advances that have been achieved are due to the heavy pressure people have mounted against this kind of factory," he told IPS.

"Our rejection of the plants is not only based on recent experiences in other countries that were unfortunate enough to have this industry, but also on current scientific knowledge. This empirical and theoretical experience allows us to state that the installation of the pulp mills will definitely bring pollution," says the open letter.

After the appearance of ECF, the Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF) technique was developed, which uses no chlorine-containing compounds.

Approximately 20 percent of the wood pulp produced worldwide is obtained by the traditional chlorine-based bleaching process, 75 percent is produced using the ECF method, and five percent by the TCF method, according to figures from 2002 cited by the World Rainforest Movement (WRM).

Researchers and environmentalists say companies have failed to adopt the TCF technique because of the higher costs involved.

But agricultural engineer Carlos Faroppa, a spokesman for the Finnish company Botnia in Uruguay, told IPS that it is a problem of quality and effectiveness.

"TCF is hardly used around the world because the technique has not continued to advance. The fibres it produces cannot be used to manufacture quality paper. Efforts to improve the ECF technique have been continuing for 12 years, and it is the most advanced ECF method that will be used in Uruguay," he said.

The controversy broke out in March, when the government of socialist President Tabaré Vázquez, who took office that month, confirmed that plans were going ahead for the installation of two pulp mills by Botnia and Spain's Empresa Nacional de Celulosa de España (ENCE) in the western city of Fray Bentos, along the Argentine border.

The pulp mill projects had been authorised by the previous government.

Local residents and authorities in the neighbouring Argentine province of Entre Ríos and in Fray Bentos, environmentalists from both countries, and even the centre-left government of Néstor Kirchner in Argentina have launched a crusade against the two plants.

The Uruguayan government, meanwhile, ensures that the environmental impact will be minimal, and underlines that the pulp mills will generate jobs and draw more than 1.8 billion dollars in investment.

The ENCE plant will have a production capacity of half a million tons a year, while Botnia's will produce one million tons.

According to Faroppa, the pulp mills that have been most recently installed around the world use the ECF method.

But the Argentine chapter of the international environmental watchdog Greenpeace stated in a communique that ECF plants are the biggest sources of pollution from organochlorine compounds in waterways.

Greenpeace Argentina maintains that it is possible to manufacture paper without polluting the environment, by using sustainable forestry management techniques, non-toxic processes and effluent-free technology (through the reuse of water), and maximising the recycling of paper products while reducing consumption, particularly in the world's industrialised countries.

Pointing to the pollution that the Fray Bentos mills will cause by dumping liquid waste into the Uruguay River, which forms part of the border between Uruguay and Argentina, Galli said the river was already at its limit in terms of oxygen problems for fish, which would be aggravated by the new plants.

Dissolved wood, chemical residues and subproducts of the reactions of chemical and organic substances reduce oxygen in the waterways, killing off fish.

"Botnia admits that it will dump 200 tons a year of nitrogen and 20 tons of phosphorus into the river, which is equivalent to the sewage produced by a city of 65,000 people," said Galli. "That will seriously jeopardise the survival of fish. Algae is the first link in the chain to be affected."

The disappearance of a small waterweed that served as the main food source for black-necked swans in a lake in southern Chile that received liquid waste flows from the Valdivia pulp mill led to the death of hundreds of swans and forced thousands of surviving birds to leave the area, which is a nature reserve.

Faroppa, however, said the water taken from the Uruguay river would be thoroughly treated before it was dumped back in, and that it would be even cleaner than it was in the first place.

According to Galli, the mills will spew into the air large amounts of reduced sulphur compounds and hydrogen sulfide, which can cause a strong "odour of rotten eggs" for several kilometres around the plants.

Epidemiological studies have shown that prolonged exposure to these smelly sulphur compounds increases the risk of acute respiratory infections.

Although it assigns low importance to the effect of the offensive odour, Botnia's own environmental impact study acknowledges that many people "will stop engaging in outdoor activities in the area around the plant," and that the smell could discourage the use of public spaces.

But Faroppa said the plant's emissions will have the lowest possible level of pollutants thanks to strict controls in keeping with European Union guidelines, which he noted are more stringent than those of the United States, and will be enforced by municipal and central government authorities and experts from the company and the University of the Republic.

Uruguayan Deputy Minister of the Environment Jaime Igorra announced last week that the two pulp mills will use lignin as a fuel, which means they will be self-sufficient in energy and will even be able to sell the surplus to the Uruguayan state power utility UTE.

Around 35,000 people from Uruguay and Argentina blocked the international bridge linking Fray Bentos with the city of Gualeguaychú across the border on Apr. 30 to protest the installation of the pulp mills. And last week, demonstrations were staged by thousands of schoolchildren in the Argentine province of Entre Rios.

The controversy thus continues to rage on both sides of the border as construction of the plants moves ahead as planned. (END/2005)

River Pulp Polution by Paper Industry. Double Standards on Pulp Mills?

Paper Pulp Polution on Rivers. Double Standards on Pulp Mills?

The ongoing pollution of Argentina's Paraná River by the pulp and paper mills along its banks seems as irreversible as it is invisible. But plans to build two similar plants on the Uruguay River, which flows along the border between the two countries, has thrust the issue into the spotlight, sparking growing awareness and increasingly vocal protest.


Nearly a dozen mills producing both wood pulp - used to manufacture paper - and paper itself are located along the Paraná River, and have a total combined output of some 850,000 tons a year. Some of these mills have been in operation for 50 years, and dump toxic waste directly into the river.

"It's true that we have these kinds of plants in Argentina, and it's also true that they are not harmless," admitted Juan Carlos Villalonga, head of the Argentine chapter of the international environmental watchdog Greenpeace.

"But the volume of production of these two new plants (to be built across the border in Uruguay) is substantially greater, as is the potential for pollution," he commented to IPS.

Given the green light by the previous Uruguayan government of neoliberal president Jorge Batlle (2000-2005), two foreign companies - Empresa Nacional de Celulosa de España (ENCE) of Spain and Botnia of Finland - each began to build pulp mills on the banks of the Uruguay River near the western Uruguayan town of Fray Bentos, with less than 10 km separating the sites of the two mills.

The projects drew harsh criticism from environmentalists and protests from area residents, especially on the Argentine side of the river, where opposition was led up by Jorge Busti, the governor of the eastern province of Entre Ríos.

Contrary to the expectations of many environmentalists, the change in government in Uruguay earlier this year did nothing to modify the situation. Socialist President Tabaré Vázquez, who took office in March at the head of the leftist Broad Front government, announced that both projects would be moving ahead as planned, and welcomed the 1.8 billion dollars in investment that the mills would bring.

The Argentine government of centre-left President Néstor Kirchner, meanwhile, conditioned its acceptance of the projects on the results of an environmental impact study conducted with the participation of experts from both countries.

But the increasingly vocal protests on the Argentine side of the river has led many in Uruguay to question why their neighbours are so staunchly opposed to the plans for the ENCE and Botnia mills across the border, while they silently accept the presence of plants that are equally or even more polluting on their own turf.

Environmental activists stress that many of the mills in Argentina were built before a sense of environmental awareness had developed among the general public. But today, they add, residents of the area are determined not only to oppose the new projects, but also to demand changes in the way pulp and paper are currently produced in their own country.

For the moment, opposition is focused in the eastern Argentine city of Gualeguaychú, across the river from Fray Bentos. Local residents are opposed to the new mills because they will dump their waste into the waterway shared by the two countries, releasing highly toxic and persistent pollutants like dioxins and furans.

The ENCE and Botnia mills combined will produce 1.5 million tons of wood pulp annually, which is double the output of the nearly one dozen pulp mills currently in operation in Argentina.
Although the plants in Argentina are not equipped with the cleaner technologies developed in recent years, up until now they have only been targeted by sporadic, isolated complaints from environmental groups. The local residents affected by the pollution have remained silent, either out of a lack of awareness or the fear of losing a source of employment.


However, the resistance mounted against the installation of the new pulp mills in Uruguay has dramatically raised the awareness of the Argentine public and opened its eyes to the existing problems in its own backyard, say activists.

"This is not a matter of inconsistency, of people accepting mills on one side and opposing them on the other side," stressed Villalonga. "What has happened here is that the public finally reached the point where they said, enough is enough, and the (Argentine) authorities have been forced to take the lead in these protests."

The turning point was marked by a massive Apr. 30 demonstration on the international bridge across the Uruguay River linking Gualeguaychú and Fray Bentos. Some 35,000 protesters came out to oppose the installation of the pulp mills, which they believe will irreparably damage fishing and tourism activities in the region.

But environmentalists have already been working for many years to raise awareness of the harm caused by pulp and paper mills in Argentina, Villalonga emphasised.

In the late 1990s, for example, Greenpeace and Taller Ecologista, an environmental organisation based in the city of Rosario in the eastern province of Santa Fe, released a joint study that was highly critical of the Argentine company Celulosa Argentina.

Celulosa Argentina owns the Capitán Bermúdez mill in Santa Fe, which borders on the province of Entre Ríos. The mill's effluents are dumped into the Paraná River, which joins the Uruguay River to form the Río de la Plata estuary, after flowing 4,000 km from its source in Brazil and crossing a large stretch of northeastern Argentina.

Water samples sent for analysis by the Taller Ecologista revealed the presence of numerous pollutants, many of them persistent pollutants associated with the use of chlorine in the pulp production process.

The organisation launched complaints against the company, but did not succeed in bringing about changes in the production process. Sergio Rinaldi, the coordinator of Taller Ecologista, commented to IPS that some of these mills were built several decades ago, when the general public was largely unaware of environmental issues.

In the province of Entre Ríos, where the most active opposition to the Uruguayan mills has emerged, one of the groups spearheading the movement is the Paraná Environmental Forum, an organisation originally founded to block the building of a dam, fight deforestation, curb overfishing in the area's rivers, and raise environmental consciousness among the public at large.
A study conducted in the northeastern Argentine province of Misiones by Ricardo Carrere of the Uruguayan environmental group Guayubira indicated that there are three large mills that control almost all local activity related to the forestry industry - the economic mainstay of the region - from the planting of the pine trees used to produce pulp to the production of paper.


One of them is the Alto Paraná mill, owned by Celulosa Arauco y Constitución SA (Celco), a Chilean company. Celco is under fire in Chile for a mill that has seriously polluted a lake in Valdivia, causing the death of hundreds of swans in a nearby nature sanctuary. In Argentina, the company produces 400,000 tons of paper a year using an elemental-chlorine free (ECF) bleaching process.

This technology, which is also to be used by the two foreign companies building the mills on the Uruguay River, releases smaller quantities of organocholorines like dioxins and furans, but does not completely eliminate emissions of the harmful pollutants. Carrere's research in Misiones revealed that residents living near the plant feel the impact of this pollution, but are largely afraid to speak out.

Numerous respondents, who insisted on remaining anonymous, told Carrere they suffered from severe headaches, allergic reactions and respiratory ailments apparently triggered by the sulphur compounds that the mill spews into the air. Carrere also discovered that a number of legal suits have been filed for cases of cancer and birth defects attributed to the pollution caused by the mill.

The first protests against the two new mills in Uruguay date back to 2002, when environmental activists and area residents unsuccessfully called on the government to halt the projects, given the lack of reliable studies measuring the combined impact of both operations. "The Kirchner administration didn't think the conflict would heat up and gave Uruguay a wink and a nod to carry on with the two projects," said Villalonga.

But the residents of Entre Ríos responded with a degree of awareness and organisation that caught everyone off guard, he added.

This unexpected reaction forced the national and provincial authorities to drop their former complacency and take on a leading role in the opposition to the projects. "It's this sudden shift that makes Uruguay angry," Villalonga remarked.

"For a long time, the two governments assumed that the controversy would eventually die down. That seems to be the most popular environmental policy in these parts: just sit back and hope that people don't find out what's going on, and don't protest, or eventually get tired and back down," he said.

The main task for the environmental movement now is to closely monitor the Argentine government's stance, to ensure that its opposition to the Uruguayan mills was not simply an "act" designed to win votes in the mid-term legislative elections earlier this month, but rather a genuine reflection of greater environmental awareness and commitment.

"If it's the latter, then perhaps now the government will shift its sights towards what's happening here in Argentina with pulp and paper production, and finally start working towards ending the use of chlorine-based processes, which are so heavily polluting," Villalonga concluded.