Valuing Recovered Paper – Clean and sorted recovered paper is the first and necessary step to creating an environmentally superior recycled paper
By: Pam Blackledge, RePaper Project Coordinator
I recently attended the Boise, Inc. 2012 Choices Sustainability Summit in Anaheim, California on behalf of the RePaper Project. It was a wonderful way to spend a day and half with people in the position of creating positive change within our society. One particular speaker focused on a new kind of leadership – leadership that supports optimism, creativity, and team oriented behavior. He discussed the art of adding value in as many ways as you can on a daily basis, and to make it as meaningful as you can in order to have the greatest impact. The goal is to make that philosophy an operating principle within your organization. You’ll need to check out Drew Dudley’s talk to hear more about how this philosophy actually lifts all boats on a rising tide of good will.
Later that afternoon, I continued along that same theme of adding value when I had the opportunity to speak about recycled fiber. It seems in our frenzy of modern day technology and all too often - short cuts - we have forgotten, or ignored, the best way to properly value a very valuable resource – recovered paper. This paper is too often seen as “waste” instead of “resource”. On a regular basis, recovered paper gets mixed up with other recyclables – in many cases causing end of life for that fiber. Single stream recycling programs are the greatest offenders of contamination. Some recyclables can handle this co-mingling without any undue hardship. Paper, on the other hand, is often sent to landfills or incinerators when mixed with food scraps, moisture, glass pieces, etc.
To value recovered paper as a resource, and better yet – add value - we need to make changes within our recovery and collection systems. Some may claim that making changes at this stage of the game is next to impossible. But I believe that if we don’t make changes it will become more and more difficult to domestically manufacture an environmentally superior recycled paper that is affordable to sustainably minded consumers. What happens then? Those consumers start buying environmentally superior paper manufactured and transported from distant lands and North American recycled paper manufacturers continue to needlessly struggle when the resource they need is so close at hand!
So how do we change the recovery and collection systems for paper? For one, create a value-added collection system at your place of work - source separate your paper products from the other recyclables in your recycling bins. This means keeping all paper products (office paper, magazines, newspapers, cardboard, etc) separate from the containers made of glass, plastic, aluminum, and steel. The next step is to look for a regional deinking mill that is interested in securing your source-separated recovered paper. Many times mills are looking for a new clean source of fiber – you could be the source of valuable fiber that they need. If you cannot locate a mill that is able to work with you, make certain that the hauling company you are contracting with to collect and transport your recyclables does not mix your separated paper products with other recyclables in transport to the sorting facility. This puts all of your good work to waste. The hauling company should be able to accommodate this need. If they are not, then take your business to one of the many hauling companies that are willing to work with you to keep the value of recovered fiber high.
If you are unable to source-separate your paper products from other recyclables for any number of reasons, the next best-case scenario is to contract with a hauler that delivers to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) dedicated to keeping recovered paper domestic. This typically means that the MRF is able to effectively sort paper out of the co-mingled recyclables and is then willing to sell to the domestic market before selling to the export market. This likely means interviewing a few MRFs to find the one that best meets your goals.
Remember that the cleaner and more sorted the recovered paper the more likely it is to stay domestic – becoming the feedstock to an environmentally superior recycled paper. If the recovered paper remains clean, the cost of the processing associated with that paper goes down. If we can accomplish this on a regular basis throughout the country, we can create a lower cost end-product. What a great win-win scenario for both the recycled paper consumer and the manufacturer!
Check out two new resources from the RePaper Project that further describe the need to keep recovered paper at its highest and best use to take full advantage of its many environmental benefits: A new fact sheet - “Paper to Protect the Planet, and white paper - “Paperwork: Comparing Recycled to Virgin Paper”.
The RePaper Project works to increase recovered paper quantity and quality, while encouraging a growing capacity for domestic recycled paper manufacturing. Contact us if we can be of help to you and your paper recycling goals. And thanks again to Boise, Inc., for creating a positive, solution-oriented conference and for the opportunity to present the work of the RePaper Project of the Environmental Paper Network.