May 2005

Paper recycling: quit throwing your money away
By Arthur Secor

In the last few years there has been a dramatic turnabout in paper recycling. It’s become profitable. Two developments are primarily responsible for this turn of events. New and more highly sophisticated recycling process equipment has been made available, and new uses for recycled paper, other than paper, are rapidly being discovered such as fillers for molded products, building materials, filters, electronic components plus hundreds of other applications. Research is even being done by McGill University, Montreal, Canada to make use of reject grades such as waxed corrugated and food contaminated papers as compost.

Single Stream
Today, it is possible to recycle almost any type of paper. TFC Recycling, a large east coast recycler headquarted in Chesapeake, Virginia first developed a highly successful ‘If It Tears Program’, which takes out all of the guesswork from household separation and recycling. TFC’s Ed Farmer, vice president for Business Development, explains, “Our ‘If It Tears Program’ essentially eliminated the need to separate various types of paper and cardboard products. It made it easy for individuals to understand and participate. Our next logical step was to upgrade this service to a commercial and business level where much higher volumes from apartment complexes and businesses warranted an investment in expansion and automation. Through this investment we’ve evolved into a single stream operation. Our new central Material Recycling Facility (MRF) combines automation and some manual separation and grading. The Bollegraaf system from The Netherlands separates cardboard and newsprint by weight through a floatation and screening process requiring a minimum of manual input. Lubo USA further refines this separation with the TiTech system from Norway that optically scans the materials and identifies high-value paper. These materials are then baled and sold for domestic or export use. In short, we make it easy to do business with us, and that has been the key to our dynamic growth.” Ed did not have to elaborate on the fact that his company generates revenue both coming in and out of the doors. The Bollegraaf system also has the capability to separate glass, plastic, aluminum and steel containers after the paper and cardboard are processed.

Over 40 percent of our national waste stream consists of paper and paper products. When broken down, the numbers are unavoidably huge. Americans consume 67,000,000 tons or 600 lbs. per person each year. Each office employee generates 70 lbs. of paper waste each month. Each ton taken to a landfill requires 3 cubic yards of space. When viewed from the economics and other benefits of recycling, we are literally throwing our money away.

Virgin paper requires 17 30’ trees, almost 4 acres of land, 2 barrels of oil, 7,000 gallons of water and over 4,000 kilowatt hours of electricity to create 1 ton. This initial investment can then be recycled 4 to 6 times with only small amounts of virgin pulp added to make up for broken down fibers in the recycled paper. Energy is the only major recycling cost at 40 percent of the original 4,000 kilowatt hours per ton. Almost any paper or paper product can now be recycled. A dependable number is that between 80 and 85 percent is possible. This includes most household papers and fiber boards, paper products, newspapers, magazines, catalogues, greeting cards, wrapping paper, packaging, and stationary, all types of mail and business papers. Waxed and food contaminated papers are a few of the exceptions. With this perspective, it is becoming obvious that recycled paper has become a valuable raw material that is increasing in world demand.

Global Growth
Most packaging materials, tissues and newsprint are already being processed as recycled products. Recycled writing and printing papers are on a sharp rise. The Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), headquartered in Brussels, attributes much of this trend to political and public pressure to discourage landfills. Michigan is currently considering increasing landfill fees. Cuyahoga County in Northeast Ohio has initiated an extensive paper recycling program that includes deposit stations and a Directory for Business and Industry that lists all major recyclers and the services they provide. Canada, over the past fifteen years, has developed one of the worlds most sophisticated and extensive paper recycling programs. In 1990 the country had one recycling mill for newsprint. Today, after a $2 billion investment, there are 62 mills across the country supplying recycled boxboard, containerboard, business papers, kraft papers and newsprint. These transform over 5 million tons of almost all grades into useful products that are consumed domestically or exported. The program is so successful that Canada now imports scrap paper to keep up with demand. Its internal recovery-reuse rate is approaching 50%.

In addition to educating governments and the public about the benefits of paper recycling, the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) is also very active in working to find new uses for recycled paper other than paper. Some of these include thermal insulation materials, innovative packing protection and even bedding for farm animals. Accordingly, it works closely with the world’s most technically advanced machine and equipment manufactures.

The Future?
The big question is not ‘if’ but ‘when’ will we stop throwing our money away on landfills and other disruptive disposal methods. It’s almost a certainty that future generations will look back at the late 20th century in amazement and exclaim ‘what a waste’. Ron Lisson, vice president of LDI Fibers, New Hope, Minnesota is cautious. “It’s all going to boil down to an issue of economics”, he explained, “the end user sets the price, and if restrictions and regulations make paper recycling unprofitable, there won’t be many recyclers around to recycle. It’s a question of how these issues are resolved”. TFC’s Ed Farmer also anticipates more and more restrictions down the road as government agencies and the public in general become more educated and sensitive to the benefits of recycling. “We like to think that we’re preparing for that future by currently developing the technology that will be required tomorrow. Our program goes beyond our doors. We also actively field train our customers and potential customers on good recycling practices and responsibilities”.


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