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JuLY 2007

Paper recycling programs needed to meet global demand

Weyerhaeuser processes 7 million tons of recycled paper annually and consumes 4 million tons for production.

As the global demand for recovered paper is expected to increase at a rate of 10 million tons per year over the next few years, so will the need to recover and recycle paper products, which play a major role in the production of new paper products.

“It’s very dramatic number,” says Pete Grogan, the manager of market development for Weyerhaeuser, “because in the 1990s, the new annual compounded growth was six million tons annually. The demand for those new volumes in the 1990s was met because the majority of residential curbside recycling collection programs in North America came on-line in the late 1980s and 1990s, as well as some this decade. In five years the world will need as much new recovered paper as is collected today in the United States.”

Grogan attributes the consumption growth to nations that have switched to capitalistic economic systems, with China and India responsible for the lion’s share.

“China has built, and will continue to build for a number of years, major state-of-the-art paper mills,” he says. “China only has four percent of the world’s forests, so they are heavily dependent on recovered paper, with the biggest suppliers being the United States, Europe and Japan. In addition to internal demand, the Chinese need packaging to send products to the world.”

In 2006, the United States produced 100.2 million tons of new paper products, of which 53.5 million tons were recovered making a record 53.5 percent recovery rate.

“We know that there are nine million tons that cannot be recycled because they are made into non-recyclable products such as tissue paper, ceiling tiles, construction products and others materials,” says Grogan. “We guess that there are about five million tons that cannot be recycled because they have been contaminated. This tells us that there are about between 30 and 35 million tons of paper out there yet to be recovered.

“We have a sense of where this paper is,” he adds. “For instance, all the states in the Rocky Mountain regions, with one or two exceptions, do not take recycling residentially seriously because they prefer to landfill and have cheap landfilling rates. What we do know for a fact is that about 55 percent of American households have recycling collection services. There is a guesstimate that only half of Americans who have this service actually use it.”

Grogan notes that the major big-box chains, grocery stores and distribution chains have been involved with paper and packaging recovery programs for years.

“That is a good news story,” he says. “Where we tend to not have recovery is in small office complexes and retailers.”

He also notes that corrugated boxes and packaging used by smaller grocers and retailers is not recovered in some areas.

“Because you have such an aggressive recycling infrastructure in Seattle, every 7-Eleven and most small retailers actively participate in a recovery program,” says Grogan. “Now it is a law in the city for residents and businesses to recycle.”

Grogan stresses that recycling programs are essential across the nation to meet the global demand for paper.

“It would be a tremendous disappointment if we didn’t, both environmentally and financially,” he says, “engage more cities in providing recycling services and engage more households, small businesses and office complexes. We calculated that those 30 to 35 million tons of paper are probably worth about $2.5 billion.”

While paper comes in various grades, the approximate value of one ton of recovered paper is about $100.

“A good percentage of the newsprint in America today is at least partial recycled content,” says Grogan. “The recycled content in Weyerhaeuser corrugated boxes is about 55 percent. The industry is definitely using high percentages of recovered paper to produce cereal boxes and boxboard package, much of it 100 percent recycled, and a high percentage of tissue paper is recycled content.”

“There are definitely production cost reductions as it relates to energy usage, which was shown in a 1995 document by the Paper Task Force that the Environmental Defense Fund,” says Grogan. “When manufacturing paper, Weyerhaeuser uses the residue of trees – we don’t take trees down to make paper, so we think there are tremendous energy savings opportunity and a variety of other environmental stewardship benefits.”

Weyerhaeuser, based in Washington, is one of the largest paper product manufacturers in the United States and manages 7 million tons of recycled paper annually.

“Of that seven million, we will consume four million for the production of new products,” says Grogan, who stresses the importance of re-using this commodity. “That is why we are looking at how to increase recovery to meet the global demand.”

Of the 18 million tons of recovered paper exported by the United States, 10 million tons went to China.

“China has become the 800-pound gorilla in the consumption of recycled commodities,” says Grogan. “The biggest challenge that the paper industry is facing is to meet the global demand for paper. I take every opportunity I can to speak with the public and municipal officials, such as Mayor John W. Hickenlooper of Denver. The Denver metropolitan area has a poor track record in relation to residential recycling. As a state, Colorado ranks 38th in the nation and New Mexico ranks 43rd.”

Internally, Grogan notes that more companies are making recycled content paper available to their customers.

“We are also seeing some environmental NGO pressure on corporate America to use more recycled content,” he says, “and you see the innovative activity like Starbucks, which is using recycled coffee cups, which historically the federal government was not very supportive of because of food contact activity. All of this is creating a new demand for recovered paper.”

He adds that for years, there was a major request by the newsprint industry urging people to recycle their newspapers, including full page ads in major publications, and several states, including California, have passed legislation requiring a certain percentage of recycled content. Despite the various grades of paper, 30 percent recycled content has become the benchmark for office paper.

Weyerhaeuser, via its trade associations – the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and the American Forest & Paper Association – has been engaged in a dialogue that would aid the development of model legislation for state and local governments for the recycling of paper and other products, and to lobby these governments in 2008.

“We are reviewing some of the best legislation produced in the country at the state level to induce citizen participation in recycling, such as Oregon (#1 in recycling) and Minnesota (#2 in recycling),” says Grogan. “Fifteen years ago, Oregon passed Senate Bill 405, which mandated that every city with 4,000 people had to supply residential collection programs to its citizens.”

For the past several years, the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) has initiated a fairly aggressive education campaign to promote recycling.

“We have been working with state governments, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Recycling Coalition, Keep America Clean and other coalition partners, as well as office buildings, to encourage recycling at the state and local level,” says Donna Harman, acting president and CEO of the AF&PA. “If we can increase the supply of recovered paper, it will help us meet domestic consumption needs and continue exports. We have been supplying state and local governments with the tools and information they need.

“The AF&PA has been working through Scholastic magazines with basic materials that are being made available to teachers so that they can begin educating children at a young age about the importance of recycling and how easy it is,” she adds. “The various programs are proving to be successful.”