In the mid 1960s, IBM advertising touted that
the “Office of the Future” would become “paperless” with the
advent of the computer age. At first, the opposite happened.
Dot matrix printers spewed out more paper than anyone ever predicted
to ensure hardcopy backup and provide office workers with tangible
working documents. Concurrently, office copiers began gobbling
up paper at an unprecedented rate.
Since then, it’s all changed as society has
become comfortable with digital information. Every day there
is greater transition from paper to electronic information in
every sphere of personal and commercial life. While we will never
become paperless, we are certainly on a course to becoming less
paper dependent, at least in the area of communications.
The United States Postal Service is a good
barometer of the decline of paper. The amount processed each
year is down by more than 20 percent in volume since its peak
in 2006. Hardest hit have been first class mailings – bills,
letters and promotional offers, mostly replaced by email, on-line
banking and couponing. Daily newspapers continue to decline as
they lose readers to online periodicals and televisions’ local
The Association of American Publishers recently
stated that e-book sales continue “powerfully strong growth.”
Industry experts now estimate that e-books represent more than
10 percent of all book publishing revenues.
Further diminishing paper use, we are in
the midst of a mobile computing revolution as wireless networks
upgrade to 4G-LTE (Long Term Evolution), which will transmit
and store vast quantities data. Voice command inventory systems
directing workers through tasks previously communicated on paper
is but one example of business moving away from paper. Massive
data is being stored in cloud computing rather than on paper.
Higher Global Demand
Yet with this great migration from paper
to digital in the realm of communications, recycled paper fiber
is in higher demand than ever before for writing, printing, packaging
and industrial applications and commanding commensurately high
“I think the paper recycling industry is
a strong growth industry because of world demand. Prices are
going to fluctuate. Right now they are very high, but are coming
down a little. I believe they will remain high for the next couple
of years,” predicted Johnny Gold, senior vice president of the
Newark Recycled Fibers division of the Newark Group.
The Newark Group, founded in 1912, is an
integrated global producer of 100 percent recycled paperboard
and paperboard products with significant manufacturing and marketing
operations in North America and Europe.
“Collections have been off for some time
for two reasons,” said Gold. “One is due to poor economic conditions
in this country. Business has been slower. It picked up a little
after schools went back into session. The other reason is the
fact we are getting more and more paperless no matter where you
look. Everything is going electronic as the world moves forward.
If the economics of this country get any better, and hopefully
they will, supply could get very tight very quickly.
“If it were not for world demand, everything would be in line
with each other, but developing nations need newsprint and more
fiber for all applications. That demand for fiber has increased
heavily compared to what it was 5 or 10 years ago.”
Data for 2010 indicates that 31 percent of
the paper and paperboard recovered in the United States went
to produce containerboard and 12 percent went to produce boxboard,
which includes folding boxes and gypsum wallboard facings. Exports
of recovered paper to China and other nations absorbed nearly
40 percent of the paper collected for recycling in the United
States in 2010.
While world demand is up significantly, the
amount of paper consumed in the United States has declined according
to the American Forest & Paper
Association (AF&PA). During the past 20 years, 1999 had a
record high production of 105,316 million tons with 44.5 percent,
or 46,818 million tons recovered for recycling. By 2010, the
supply dropped to 81,209 million tons, but with a much higher,
63.5 percent recovery rate, or 51,545 million tons recovered.
In other words, a net increase of 4,727 million tons more recovered
in 2010 than in 1999.
The Wellesley Model
Even though curbside pickup of paper is convenient
for residents, it results in additional taxes or sticker fees
to cover the cost of collection and windblown paper is sometimes
messy on collection day.
If the overall objective is to increase the
recovery of paper and maximize its recycled value, Wellesley,
Massachusetts presents a good case. It has avoided collection
costs by instituting a highly effective drop off program for
both trash and recyclables that exceeds average recovery rates
and produces substantial income through the sale of paper, metal,
plastics and other recyclables.
Wellesley has been progressive in more than
recycling. In 1914, it was the first town in America to adopt
zoning laws. By the 1920s it was recognized as one of the leading
suburbs of Boston. Today it is an affluent community of 27,000
with a distinguished recycling record due to its “Step-Up” program
of community outreach and education that could well serve as
a model for materials reduction, reuse and recycling for the
rest of the nation.
“We have about 10,000 vehicles a week that
drive through our recycling facility. We are a very unique municipal
operation in the sense that we utilize profit-making strategies
in an attempt to maximize our revenue. I like to think of what
we do as squeezing out every penny in terms of saving and making
money,” said Gordon Martin, superintendent of Wellesley’s recycling
and disposal facility. “We don’t offer municipal curbside so
residents have two choices. They can either bring their trash
and recyclables here – 85 percent choose to do that, or 15 percent
hire private haulers that pick up at their home or business and
bring it here.
“I just finished our fiscal 2011 annual report
and we managed to put back into general funds $866,000. We routinely
turn back an average of three-quarter of a million dollars each
year. We are probably the only town in America where we have
a budget to buy recyclable material from other communities as
well as from public sector businesses. We try to be the best
option for communities around us. We buy their recyclables and
process it. More often than not we export, but also sell domestically.
Either way we make money!
“We try to teach our residents to recycle
as much as they can and make our facility very user friendly
to drive through. After they drop off their recyclables, residents
go into the area where they dump their trash. Even there we have
newspaper and cardboard drop off, right next to the trash compactor
as a last chance to collect paper. I think we are capturing the
majority of it. Last year we collected 3,569 tons of newspaper
and cardboard for $457,241 in sales. It’s the highest volume
in our recycling stream and also has the most value.
Wellesley issues free permits to residents
to keep non-residents from illegally dumping at the facility.
“We are surrounded by communities that have pay-as-you-throw,
or permits that cost big money, upwards of $150 dollars. We don’t
want out-of-town people trying to sneak their trash in here.
I think what we do here is very unique. I don’t think you’ll
find too many communities that have invested in a recycling program
as we have. Our numbers indicate that the investment was well
worth it,” Martin added.
Recycled paper or solid waste?
There is another challenge of vital concern to the paper recycling
industry –an issue that is now being considered by the Senate
in the form of Senate Resolution-251. It “expresses support for
policies in the United States that promote recycling of materials,
including paper, which is commonly recycled rather than thermally
combusted or sent to a landfill.” SR-251 also, “expresses support
for policies in the United States that recognize and promote
recyclable materials as essential economic commodities, rather
The definition of “biomass” is another challenge
for the paper recycling industry that could cause great harm.
According to the Congressional Research Service, biomass is defined
as: “…organic matter that can be converted into energy.” Common
examples of biomass fuels include food crops, crops for energy
such as switchgrass, wood waste and animal manure.
Over the past few years, however, biomass
has expanded to include algae, construction debris, yard and
food waste, and municipal solid waste (MSW). Each year, 243 million
tons of waste is generated by Americans and 82 million tons,
or 33.8 percent is recycled. Paper represents the lion’s share
of MSW, at a whopping 28.2 percent.
MSW is increasingly being incinerated at
waste-to-energy plants. Of the 243 million tons generated each
year by Americans, 29 million tons or 12 percent was combusted
for energy recovery.
“An issue we work on day in and day out is
making sure the government doesn’t do anything to subsidize the
ultimate destruction of our paper such as in municipal waste-to-energy
facilities, or in landfills” says Terese Colling, a Washington
DC representative of the Paper Recycling Coalition (PRC). “We
don’t want the government providing subsidies to do so. We don’t
want our government competing against us.” We provide tens of
thousands of good paying jobs at mills across the United States
and we can compete in an unmanipulated market for our fiber needs.
PRC is an association of 100 percent recycled
containerboard and paperboard manufacturers responsible for processing
over six million tons of recovered fiber per year. Since 1990,
it has been educating policy leaders, regulators, and others
about the 100 percent recycled paper industry and the need for
access to the recovered fiber supply to maintain tens of thousands
of jobs at mills across the United States. “The mission of the
PRC is to protect the fiber supply. The PRC supports fair and
unmanipulated markets in determining where and how fiber should
flow. And, the PRC strongly opposes any subsidies for others
to use recovered fiber as a feedstock,” Colling added.
Under the EPA’s CHP (Combined Heat & Power) Partnership there
are seemingly endless state and federal incentives applicable
to biomass and biogas projects, including a slew of financial
incentives and favorable regulatory treatment. The sheer size
of these programs are staggering. On the EPA website, over 180
separate state and national programs are listed. It’s so complex
that the CHP Partnership updates the information twice a month
on financial incentives, such as grants, tax incentives, low-interest
loans, favorable partial load rates and tradable allowances,
all of which help CHP project developers attract additional private
investment for their CHP or biomass project.
CHP or biomass project development can also
be expedited with regulatory treatment that removes unintended
barriers such as standard interconnection requirements, net metering,
and output-based regulations.
With stringent emissons control, many people
see MSW going to energy plants as a positive development, both
to power steam generators to produce electricity and to conserve
landfill capacity. But anyone involved in paper recycling, or
sustainability should have concerns over paper contained in MSW
going up in smoke, rather than being recovered, especially when
the practice is supported and incentivized by federal and state