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[GreenYes] Re: Trends in residuals

Title: Re: [GreenYes] Trends in residuals
Hi, Doug,

The domestic paper mills have installed a lot of cleaning equipment over the past few years but it cannot keep out all the damaging contaminants. Those are not the only problem, either – the mills are having to send large amounts of the incoming feedstock to landfills because either it was the wrong kind of fiber or it wasn’t fiber at all. Then they have to re-buy more material to replace what should have been right to begin with. See  Blue Heron’s PPT, in particular, gives contamination data.

The clean-up has to happen at the MRF level. It’s the only place where it can be done efficiently, adequately, and economically and also be able to maximize getting the materials to the right manufacturers.

Some mills have even built sorting lines onto the front end of their facilities to try to handle the worst materials, but all of this drives up the cost of making recycled products further. Already, some mills that run both recycled and virgin fiber say that using recycled is more expensive. That doesn’t seem a good direction.

I have yet to see the Asian mills myself but I ask everybody for reports. They’re new, of course, so better oriented to taking more problematic materials. But I still hear lots of reports about long hand-sort lines set up on the manufacturing front-end or in nearby warehouses – basically, they’re using low-cost labor to re-MRF most of the materials before they can use them for manufacturing, as well.

One factor that seems to add to the confusion about this issue is that there are several different kinds of paper mills, each needing different fiber feedstocks depending on what products they are making. So somebody will tell me, “I heard someone from the paper industry say that they don’t have a problem with mixed paper,” or “Fiber can be dumped directly into that mill without sorting,” and they assume that holds for all paper mills. When I follow it back, inevitably the mill they’re talking about is making a product like corrugated medium or notepad backings that CAN accept a wide mix of fibers. But that’s not true for newsprint, tissue, printing and office paper, or corrugated linerboard, all of which need clean, specific fibers. Shifting markets can’t change those needs, and even mills that can use mixed fibers can’t make paper from glass, plastics or metals.

I also hear people say, “Who cares? So all our paper can come from China if they’re better able to handle the mix.” But China does not simply duplicate our system. The newsprint we send there generally stays there in paper for their population. And, in contrast to their newsprint and packaging products, their printing and office paper, which we get back in school and office products and printed books, has no recycled content at all. So we don’t get a full recycling system if we abandon domestic mills.

The MRFs are the ones at the intersection between collection and manufacturing. However it is that the materials end up being delivered to them, managers at the MRFs (and this often includes the collectors and local governments that organized the collection process) should be dedicated to figuring out how to process it so that it works well as manufacturing feedstock – and for the whole recycling system, not just the small subset of mills that can take commingled materials.


Susan Kinsella
Executive Director
San Francisco, CA

On 11/17/08 10:05 AM, "Doug Koplow" <Koplow@no.address> wrote:

There's been a bunch of back and forth about what type of processing is best.  To some degree, it seems to me that the answer to this question likely changes over time -- as markets shift and sorting technology changes.  
Has anybody tracked residuals in detail over a long period of time to get a handle on this?  For example, how much of the degradation caused by mixing fibers at the MRF level can be fixed through better processing at the mill level?  Have the Asian mills improved this technology more than US mills?  Any similar info on plastics?  

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