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[greenyes] Paper Recycling
Industry News: U.S. Paper Recycling Reaches a Record High
Source: Knight Ridder Washington Bureau
February 09, 2005
WASHINGTON - 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 newsletter.
"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.

To bolster 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 as 1990.

"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.

The hardest-to-recover 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 report.

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 packaging.

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 recycled paper.

"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. "


Here are 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
Christine McCoy
Director, Environmental Programs
Rural Community Assistance Partnership, Inc.
1522 K Street, NW, Suite #400
Washington, DC  20005
Phone:  202/408-1273 ext. 104
Toll Free: 800/321-7227
Fax:  202/408-8165

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