It is well understood that paper fibers cannot be recycled indefinitely. The US EPA indicates that papers can be recycled an estimated 4-7 times and the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI) cites 5-7 times. The range of reuse depends on both the type of fiber and the subsequent treatment of that fiber. Longer stronger fibers, like softwood kraft fibers used in paper bags, will generally survive longer than a shorter weaker fiber - such as a mechanically pulped hardwood used in newsprint and some magazine grades.
How many times “does” a paper fiber get recycled?
Keeping fiber available for re-use is based on two key metrics - the recovery rate (collection) of different paper products and the subsequent yield in processing.
There is ample data to show that different paper products are recovered at different rates. Corrugated containers lead the charge at over 90% while the rate for printing and writing grades is just about 55%.
When it comes to processing yield, again there are vast differences by product category. Paperboard manufacturers cite yields of 95% or better. According to Ron Fox of paperboard manufacturer, Graphic Packaging International, “When we reuse the fiber, we’re basically just filtering out the non-fibrous, extraneous materials like plastics and metal. We keep all the fiber and additives. So when we’re making containerboard or boxboard, at the lowest our yield is about 90%. Generally we yield about 97% 98%.” The key to the higher yield is to keep the processing to a minimum. Says, Fox, “We don’t deink it, we don’t bleach it, we don’t do anything to degrade that fiber”. (Cited on p. 16 in “Rethinking Recycling”)
At the other end of the spectrum, products such as our coated fine papers require a much cleaner, purer fiber. Cleaning, filtering and processing recovered fiber to meet the tough standards of graphic paper applications requires additional energy and chemicals to raise its quality and separate the fiber from materials such as adhesives, clay and ink. Deinking facilities that produce fibers for use in graphic paper routinely report lower yields – around 70% - with some sources reporting yields as low as 52%.
When we combine the effects of recovery rates and yields, we find that a significant portion of fiber never sees a second use. For example, if we start with 100 tons of office paper fiber and only 55% is collected and then 30% is lost in deinking, less than 40% of the fiber actually ends up recycled after just a single round of recovery and processing.
(100 x 0.55 x 0.7 = 38.5)
So what can we do to keep more fiber in the system?
Step 1. Collect more
As a society we should strive for the highest collection possible. This is one of the reasons we are so passionate about using “please recycle” logos on printed materials.
Step 2. Waste less fiber
We need to face the facts. Clearly paperboard manufacturing is a better use of recycled fiber than premium printing and writing grades. It is important that procurement policies and decisions allow fiber to get put to its best use where it will have higher yield and less environmental impact.
If you want the deep, deep dive on what happens to fibers in recycling, check out this peer reviewed paper by a group of professors at NC State. In their summary they say “…recycling of paper involves many compromises…” and “it can be quite complicated to determine the most appropriate, and even the most ethical way to deal with recycling of paper.”
For many of us, the transition to a new year causes pause for reflection and inspires goal setting. I have seen several stories listing “top ten” resolutions for 2013 and it likely comes as no surprise that spending more time with friends, losing weight, and giving up vices rank high on such lists. But I did not see much concern for the environment revealed in these lists. At the start of 2013 we also found ourselves teetering at the edge of the fiscal cliff. So herein, I offer a handful of suggestions for eco-resolutions that can have a positive impact on the environment and also create financial savings.
1. Invest in better light bulbs. If you are still using incandescent bulbs you are missing out on some low hanging fruit. According to the Energy Star website:
If every American home replaced just one light bulb with a light bulb that’s earned the ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars.
2. Drive less. Think about carpooling, using public transportation or better yet – bike or walk to work if you can. All of these options will no doubt save money on gas, parking and car maintenance while reducing CO2 emissions. According to the EPA’s Household Carbon Footprint Calculator, the average US vehicle is driven 240 miles per week, emitting 12,500 lbs of CO2 per year.
3. Consider your water bill. I fixed a leaky toilet recently and found that a one-time $7.00 investment will return over $15.00 in savings each year. Plus that annoying sound of the tank refilling goes away. If you are looking for other ways to reduce your water footprint, consider the impact of washing (and drying) clothes. A life cycle study analysis (LCA) conducted by Levi’s found that a pair of jeans consumes over 900 gallons of water in its lifetime (roughly half of which is consumed in the supply chain and the other half from washing). They also found that 50% of the climate impact of a pair of jeans can be saved by washing in cold water and then hanging them to dry.
4. Drink tap water. If you don’t have a refillable water bottle by now, it’s time to splurge. At one point the Grand Canyon National Park found that 20% of their waste stream was comprised of disposable plastic bottles. In an effort to reduce their waste handling costs, they banned the sale of bottled water within the park and installed free water filling stations. They also make affordable souvenir bottles available for visitors. Water quality in the US is outstanding. I am personally not in favor of banning bottled water because I think it’s a great alternative to other drinks for people on the go. But when you can drink tap water, it’s a cost effective option that can reduce consumption of packaging materials.
5. Recycle more. We’re getting better and better about recycling paper products in the US – but there are still many opportunities for improvements. I personally don’t think I can do much better with paper, but my own goal for 2013 is to focus on plastic bags and especially plastic films. Many towns have implemented Pay-As-You-Throw systems for household waste - charging for trash bags whereas recycling is free. So every little bit helps and, for me, focusing on plastic is my next recycling frontier. What’s yours?
For recycling in general, the major barriers for increasing recovery rates are access and education. In other words, people need to understand what can be recycled and where. While most of us quickly become familiar with recycling programs at home, we may experience different programs at work and in public venues. Or worse yet, we may not have access to recycling in some places.
For paper products specifically, the US is at an all time high recovery rate. In fact, paper recovery increased by 1.2 million tons in 2011, lifting the recovery rate to a record-high 66.8 percent. That’s up from 63.5 percent in 2010 and 33.5 percent in 1990.
Digging deeper into data reveals that printing and writing grades lag behind other products like corrugated containers. As an industry segment, we can, and should do better. While some paper products can never be recycled (e.g. hygiene products like bathroom tissue and towel) all of Sappi’s coated fine papers can and should be recycled. And 87% of Americans have access to curbside or drop-off paper recycling programs. So recycling of magazines and catalogs is not limited to access, but perhaps simply by awareness. For this reason we are strong supporters of recycling education and outreach and encourage corporate marketers and graphic designers to use “please recycle” claims and logos on all printed pieces.
If you are unsure whether something can be recycled the best solution is to seek out information rather than err toward landfilling. Resources like earth911.com can help identify recycling facilities.
Home to nearly one eighth of the US population, it is not uncommon to see things happen first in California. The state is known as a primary producer of grapes and there are more turkeys raised in California than any other state. In 1947, a young woman named Norma Jean was named as the first artichoke queen in Castroville, CA.
Perhaps 2012 will be recorded as part of the state’s history for hosting the inaugural trials of the REMAG kiosks. An innovative, new reverse vending system, REMAG is slated for trials at eight supermarket locations in the Bay Area and Central Valley. The concept is pretty straight forward: using a kiosk system, users can redeem magazines and catalogs for rewards.
Last week, a blogger for Target Marketing, shared his thoughts on the wide variety of benefits of this program for various stakeholders including consumers, retailers, catalogers and publishers and the scrap recycling industry. Herein I offer a few more comments on the recycling benefits.
While paper continues to be recovered for recycling at rates significantly higher than other materials (66.8% in 2011) the industry still faces many challenges and opportunities. In particular, printing and writing grades tend to lag behind newsprint and old corrugated containers. And - as far as I’m concerned – for no good reason. Magazines and catalogs are fully recyclable and the vast majority of people in the US have access to recycling facilities. I am convinced that through continued education, reminders about recycling – and now with additional incentives – consumers will learn to recycle even more paper products.
Unfortunately, there is still confusion about the recyclability of products made with coated papers. Perhaps some confusion stems from history – there was a time that many of us were taught not to recycle “glossy” papers and some of that stigma remains today. This is one of the reasons I am so passionate about the use of “please recycle” claims and logos on printed pieces. And it’s one of the reasons that I’m excited about REMAG: The program will serve to help re-educate people about the recyclability of magazines and catalogs.
For papermakers across many segments, getting fiber of good quality is a growing challenge – in great part because of continued growth of municipal systems where everything recyclable goes in the same bin (known as single stream recycling). But REMAG has the potential to help. Better separation helps recycled fiber maintain a higher value to the market. While many people simply think of waste paper as “one thing” – there are actually multiple grades destined for multiple uses. (I just counted 51 different grades of paper listed at scrapindex.com)
For those active in social media, OMG, conveys a sense of excitement. For those in the scrap industry, OMG is Old Magazine Grades – also worthy of excitement as it has higher value than mixed papers.
OMG. I am so totally rooting for REMAG.
Mark your calendars and join us on Saturday, August 11 at our Westbrook, ME paper mill.
At Sappi, sustainability is led through several cross functional teams, including our corps of Sustainability Ambassadors. Our ambassadors are located at each site and represent nearly every function in the organization. But with very few exceptions, the ambassadors were not selected because of their specific job function – they were chosen because of their roles as leaders (both formal and informal positions) and because of their passion for sustainability.
Our ambassadors have conducted a broad range of activities. Some of these activities have been internally focused (such as quizzes based on our Sustainability Report) while others have brought our employees into the community to share their knowledge and passion with others (such as papermaking demonstrations at schools or the annual River Quest event in Minnesota).
This year, for the first time ever, ambassadors across several locations have banded together to host a “Green Community Day”. True to Sappi’s longstanding commitment to recycling – there will be many elements and opportunities for making sure that worn out, unwanted materials get recovered and put to best use: sneakers, eyeglasses, DVD’s/CD’s and confidential documents can be brought to the event for recycling. A representative from e-Waste Alternatives will be on hand to teach people about the proper disposal of electronics.
There will also be a wide range of kids activities – including bike rodeo and a kid-powered milkshake station – plus face painting, birdhouse building, and of course papermaking demonstrations.
I am personally looking forward to seeing harvesting equipment on site. Indeed, our foresters have arranged to have full size equipment brought to the mill so that people can learn more about harvesting and sustainable forestry.
And more. Much more.
I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to community partners, sponsors and all of the volunteers that have worked hard to bring this together. And an open welcome to friends, families, neighbors and visitors. Please join us and see what it is like to be part of the Sappi sustainability community.
For more information, please visit www.sappigreencommunityday.com