FIRST-HAND KNOWLEDGE: Tarawera High School year 13 science students visit the Asaleo Care mill as part of their NCEA level 3 chemistry standard they are working on. They are given packs of Purex toilet tissue to take away. Photo supplied

Tarawera High School students report on their visit to Asaleo Care

IT was that time of the year, when the year 13 science students of Tarawera High School took their education outside the classroom in the form of a trip to Asaleo Care, situated in Kawerau.

This mill, which is one of the leading manufacturers of hygiene and personal care products, (such as, Purex toilet paper, Sorbent, Tork and Handee towels etc) for the whole of Australasia, was chosen because it is right at our doorstep, being only a five-minute drive from our school.

The purpose of the trip was for students to gain first-hand information of the NCEA level 3 chemistry standard they are working on – the chemical processes involved in the making of pulp, paper and tissues.

We were greeted by process engineer Matt Cooke who gave us an introduction on the employment prospects at the mill, the site layout and then explained the real “nitty gritty” stuff of all the chemical reactions involved in the making of pulp to the finished product of paper and tissues.

During this briefing, mill manager Peter Hockley, HR employee relations manager Sue Gibbs and converting operations manager Steve Cruickshank spoke to students, motivating them to think of their career choices and employment prospects at the mill.

This was followed by a physical tour around the mill led by Matt and a newly- appointed engineering graduate Jason Brown.

The students were given bluetooth headphones, which made it very convenient for them to hear the tour leaders amidst the loud din of the machinery. Students got to see all the machines involved in the conversion process for the tissue papers.

One of the most fascinating aspects of a paper mill is to see the running of paper machines and actually see how pulp starts at one end and after travelling through a series of dryers, presses, glues and rollers that cover the distance of the entire factory, come out all being rolled, cut and neatly packed as tissue paper or Handee towels, ready to be despatched to the customers.

The machines run 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are completely automated, so very few plant operators or employees are seen around, which is another fascinating aspect.

The trip finally ended with Matt talking about how Asaleo Care is minimising its environmental impact and leaving a very small carbon footprint. It has switched from the use of natural gas to locally-produced geothermal energy in partnership with Ngati Tuwharetoa Geothermal Assets. This ensures a more sustainable energy balance as harnessing the heat supply from the steam underground is considered to be the most efficient use of this resource.

The culmination of the trip, and a highlight for students, was the distribution of packs of Purex toilet tissue to take away. The joy seen on their faces was evident as one of them excitedly said “My nan will be very happy to have them”.

So, all in all a very local, engaging, enjoyable and authentic experiential learning for the students.