The pulp and paper industry is getting into recycling in a big way.
Two years ago, the industry set a national target of 40 percent paper recovery for recycling by the end of 1995. And it may just succeed.Papermakers classify paper into four grades for purposes of recycling: corrugated, newsprint, mixed grades and high grades.
"In 1991, 31.1 million tons of recyclable paper were collected, of which 24.6 million tons were utilized in U.S. mills to make paper and paperboard, and 6.6 million tons were exported for recycling in foreign countries," J. Rodney Edwards, vice president of the Paperboard Group, a division of the American Paper Institute, told attendees at the 1992 Paper Week conference in New York last month.
Mr. Edwards said the paper and pulp industry's collection system continued to expand in 1991, once again breaking records set the previous year.
"In 1991, about 57 percent of all corrugated boxes used in the U.S. were recovered from the solid-waste stream for recycling," William V. Driscoll, the institute's vice president for the Containerboard and Kraft Paper Group, noted in a speech at the conference.
"This is up from 48 percent four years ago. Of the total recovered tonnage, U.S. containerboard producers used nearly 8 million tons, folding box board industry and other recyclers 3.5 million tons, and nearly 3 million tons were exported for recycling abroad."
He said the 57 percent recovery rate for old corrugated containers is only eclipsed in the United States by the 64 percent recovery rate for aluminum cans last year. By 1995, the containerboard industry will consume nearly 11 million tons of recoverable post-consumer wastepaper and will achieve a maximum potential recovery rate of slightly over 60 percent, he predicted.
Old newspaper collection also set a record in 1991 of 6.6 million tons, up more than 550,000 tons from 1990 figures. Mixed paper collected from offices nationwide totaled about 3.7 million tons, and high-grade printing and writing papers, most of which were also collected from offices, was 6.7 million tons. All told, the U.S. pulp and paper industry recovered slightly over 31 million tons of paper in 1991, up 2 million tons from 1990. Approximately 6 million tons of recovered paper each year was exported.
The 24.6 million tons of paper recovered for domestic use in 1991 is equivalent to 31 percent of the 79.4 million tons of paper and paperboard the United States produced in 1991 and more than 35 percent of paper and paperboard consumption in the United States. Just four years ago, the industry recycled 19.8 million tons of paper and paperboard products.
Demand in U.S. pulp and paper mills grew at a rate approximately twice as fast as that for wood fiber, the primary raw material in paper. That leads institute executives to think the industry will reach its goal by 1995.
Industry observers note that the 40 percent level represents an immense accomplishment, since only 50 percent of paper products used can be recycled, given the technology available.
For one thing, a certain amount of paper and paper products aren't separated from the solid-waste stream. Used paper plates and coffee filters will continue to be difficult to recycle for some time.
A certain amount of paper products go directly into the wastewater treatment stream, toilet paper and sanitary napkins. Then things like books, money and art prints are not discarded.
Specific states are recycling leaders. Wisconsin, the No. 1 papermaking state with 4.7 million tons, currently is using 25 percent to 30 percent recycled fiber in making paper.
"That total was right around 900,000 to 1 million tons a year in the late 1970s and early 1980s," said Earl Gustafson, energy and projects manager for the Wisconsin Paper Council in Neenah. "Now, it's about 1.3 million tons in 1990."
The 30 percent increase in recycled fiber makes Wisconsin one of the top three states in consumption of recycled wastepaper.
Even though recycling is a rather recent trend nationwide, Mr.
Gustafson said recycled pulp and paper mills across the state have been in existence for years, "some long before the current trend began. As long as there is customer demand, the companies (here) will move to meet it."
As recycling seems to be growing, so does recycled mill capacity. And this will help the country achieve the 40 percent goal by 1995. Some 3 million tons of recycled newsprint mill capacity is scheduled to come on line before 1994. At the end of 1991, there was just over 5 million metric tons of recycled newsprint mill capacity in the United States and Canada.
Even in the high-grade market, recycled mill capacity is expected to increase substantially in the next several years. Superior Recycled Fiber Industries, a joint venture between Minnesota Power of Duluth, Minn., and Pentair Inc. of St. Paul, Minn., recently announced plans to build a $70 million plant in Duluth to recycle office wastepaper. The 200 ton-a-day de- inking facility, which is expected to be operational by late 1993, will recycle office wastepaper and sell the pulp to mills in Minnesota, Wisconsin and northwest Ontario.
"The proposed plant is an economic solution to an environmental and social problem," said Warren F. Hudelson, spokesman for Minnesota Power. "We should be using approximately 9 percent of the office wastepaper that is presently being collected in the U.S."
He said the Duluth plant will be "one of the largest such facilities in the United States. It will let our regional paper producers get recycled fiber in their sheets."