JUNE 2008

ON TOPIC


Paper Recycling

—Patrick J. Moore

The American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) held its 131st Annual Paper Week in New York City. Much of the focus of the conference revolved around paper recovery and recycling issues.

This was certainly the case for the press conference following the release of the 2007 paper recycling rate. The following questions were dealt with by AF&PA president and CEO Donna Harman and Patrick J. Moore, chairman and CEO, Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation, one of the world’s largest paper recyclers.

Where do you see room for growth in paper recovery?

Harman: The office paper category is an area where there is great room for improvement. That is why we are so pleased with the partnerships that we have with the EPA because that is an area where we can sustainably increase the amount of recovery.

We already have very high levels for OCC and old newsprint. While we think there is still more that can be recovered there, increased rates will probably come from waste paper in households and offices.

Moore: It’s critically important that we focus going forward on these high quality fibers in the stream today – catalogs, magazines, first class mail and other packaging products from households.

On a recycling course, we must recognize that we need a deeper engagement in schools, communities and businesses in allowing for opportunities that exist in those high quality fiber streams.

Although with an over 70 percent recovery rate, we are pleased with what we accomplish every day, but there is always room for improvement.

Would consumers be willing to pay a premium to ensure that a dedicated fund can be established to create a paper and general recycling infrastructure?

Moore: From the Smurfit-Stone standpoint, we look at sustainability as a three-legged stool – the environmental side, the socially responsible side that comes with it and the economic side.

Historically, we have not seen consumers really willing, from an economic standpoint, to support products that have greater sustainability. In the future, it is going to be critical that we see people from a consumption standpoint making buying decisions based on what is right for the environment and for sustainability.

What role can the government play in helping to maximize the recycling rate?

Moore: I wouldn’t encourage a subsidization of recycling activities today. We would generally be against subsidies overall, but we would certainly encourage education and trying to get people to understand the value they can create out of increased recycling.

Harman: When we look at the economic impact that we’ve had with recycling, this is a perfect example of economics and environment gaining popularity and starting to come in alignment with consumer interest focused around environmental sustainability.

This industry has really been able to help put the emphasis in place and provide market demand for the recovery of waste paper. It has been a tremendous economic success. The market place has been the driver of this and we really don’t want to see the government do anything that would impede that market place success.

How would you describe the situation in regards to the use of recovered paper domestically and as an export item?

Moore: Certainly in our country, we enjoy a good fiber balance, not only from the standpoint of virgin fiber, but from recycled fiber as well. The North American industry has really been going through a lot of capacity rationalization over the last number of years, while the level of recycled fiber in the country has been improving.

Today, we look at this as a global industry. A lot of new capacity is coming on stream in many Asian countries, and China in particular.

China is a significant importer of recycled fiber today. It is a principal raw material base for that new capacity. That differential of what we recover and what we use here and what is typically sold into the trade market, is principally the growth that we’ve seen over the years in what is being sent to China.

If you look at the capacity expansion over the next couple of years, most of our expansion will come out of the Asian continent, particularly China.