|Industry News: U.S.
Paper Recycling Reaches a Record High |
Ridder Washington Bureau |
Americans are recycling paper at an all-time high, recapturing 300 pounds
per person each year. That's more than half the paper produced in the
United States. In addition to improvements in the tactics of waste-paper
collection, recycling is gaining from China's suddenly ravenous appetite
for U. S. scrap paper. Its hunger for recycled paper is fueled by its own
shortage of wood pulp and a mushrooming need for boxes in which to ship
its exports. |
U. S. papermakers, who need scrap themselves, are
struggling to compete against China's mills, which made off with about 6
million tons of American scrap paper in 2004. That's from a total U. S.
paper recovery of about 50 million tons. Mills in India, Indonesia, Japan
and South Korea also are ardent bidders for American scrap paper.
"American mills are scared. They're pulling out their hair," said
Mark Arzoumanian, the editor of Official Board Markets, an industry price
"It's as though we're a Third World country, providing raw
materials to manufacturing countries," fretted Stanley Lancey, an
economist at the American Forest & Paper Association, a
Washington-based industry trade group.
Recovery rates are steady
but prices are soaring for other U. S. recycled products, mainly fibers,
metallics and plastics, said Jerry Powell, the editor of Resource
Recycling, a monthly magazine for municipal recyclers. "China's key to all
three," Powell said.
Exports of U. S. scrap of all kinds grew to
$8. 4 billion last year, according to the Commerce Department. That's more
than double the 1999 total.
Scrap paper is now the top American
export by volume, according to the paper industry. It's growing faster
than traditional U. S. exports such as advanced technology products, farm
products, manufacturing, and goods and services.
What's keeping U.
S. and Chinese papermakers stocked with scrap is the eagerness of
Americans to recycle. Curbside collection, for instance, is up. So is
corrugated cardboard collection, especially by grocery and department
stores, who have found they can make money on it.
recycled-paper supplies to U. S. mills, the forest and paper trade group,
which has long pushed recycling, aims to recover 55 percent of the paper
produced nationwide by 2012. That's far below the rate in Germany and
Finland, which recover nearly 75 percent. But it's another big step up for
the United States, which recovered only a third of its paper as recently
"It's the mind-set now," said Rod Park, the chairman of
the Portland, Ore. , Metro Council's Solid Waste Advisory Committee. The
eco-sensitized Portland area recovered almost 550 pounds of paper per
person last year, thanks to a policy of charging for garbage pickups but
not for recycling. By maximizing recycling, homeowners can save $73 to
$170 a year on their garbage-collection bills. Targeted pitches to the
property managers of office buildings and apartment buildings - and
attractive scrap prices - helped, too.
paper remains printing-writing paper and office paper, as well as the kind
that catalogs, magazines and newspaper inserts are printed on. Homeowners
will pitch them in, Portland discovered, but only if given additional
14-gallon recycling bins or bigger wheeled ones.
The demand for
scrap paper in China, which is so deforested that it produces little of
its own pulp, is growing at about 50 percent a year, according to the
paper industry. To meet that demand, U. S. collection agents for China's
mills offer higher prices than many American papermakers, market analysts
Because shipping costs relatively little - $10 to $15 on
scrap paper that costs around $100 a ton - China's surging demand is
turning even East Coast cities such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ,
Savannah, Ga. , Baltimore and Philadelphia into paper-export ports to
Asia. Los Angeles leads, followed by New York, San Francisco, Laredo,
Texas, and Seattle.
Much U. S. scrap paper ends up in the massive
new Nine Dragons recycled paper mill in Dongguan, China, north of Hong
Kong. It's the world's largest, and is unique in its ability to turn
low-quality mixed papers into respectable paperboard for boxes and
Another factor in China's favor: Its workers, who are
paid about $3. 40 a day to sort mixed paper manually, are far cheaper than
American workers, who are paid at least the $5. 15 an hour federal minimum
wage. China's low wages have helped many U. S. communities to collect
recyclables with little or no sorting.
While strong offshore
demand helps keep supplies up and prices in the $80 to $120 a ton range,
some environmentalists worry that U. S. mills are getting priced out of
"I don't object to exporting some of our recovered
paper overseas," said Susan Kinsella, the executive director of
Conservatree, a San Francisco-based forest conservation and
paper-recycling group. "At the same time, I think it's important to
continue to support our own mills, too. "
some Web sites for readers interested in paper recycling: Conservatree, a
nonprofit dedicated to building markets for environmentally sound papers:
www. conservatree. org
The federal Web-based paper calculator,
which allows users to compare the environmental impacts of papers made
with varying amounts of recycled paper: www. ofee. gov/gp/papercal. html
ForestEthics, a group pressing retail paper sellers to offer more
recycled paper: www. forestethics. org/paper
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