Paper Packaging Produced in Canada Nears 80% Recycled Content

by | Aug 15, 2011

While traveling in Toronto recently, a colleague shared an article with me: a brief update in the trade news.  There are reportedly 30 mills in Canada capable of producing packaging grades – of those mills, almost two thirds produce products with 100% recycled content.  The average has climbed consistently over the past 20 years and has reached a current high of 77%. Big surprise?  Front page, headline news for the Toronto Sun or the Globe and Mail?  Not really.  More like business as usual. 

U.S. industry statistics show similar trends.  Most of the recycled fiber consumed by U.S. manufacturers ends up in packaging grades.  There is also a great demand for our waste paper overseas (primarily China).  And what do they do with the fiber?  They make cardboard boxes.

Packaging grades are one of the best uses for recycled fiber.  It is a cost effective use of waste paper and delivers products with the right quality attributes for the job at hand.  And industry experts know this.

It is not only a case of economic forces working successfully; it’s a great win for the environment as well.  Using recycled fiber in products like corrugated containers or molded pulp applications (like egg cartons or drink trays) typically requires minimal processing. These applications do not require bleaching and for many products the ink need not be removed.  The result is a high yield of fiber recovery (less waste) and less impact on the environment than when deinking is required.

When environmental and economic forces come together like this, we truly have a sustainable business model.  On the flip side, when we buy deinked pulp at Sappi for use in our premium coated fine papers, it costs us more than making virgin fiber.  And we have to pass that cost on to our customers.  Furthermore, deinked market pulp is routinely delivered with a higher carbon footprint than the virgin pulp made on site.  So while we offer grades with up to 30% recycled fiber derived from post consumer waste, those grades come with a premium cost, and a higher carbon footprint.

But my thoughts above are not just an industry perspective.  The US Environmental Protection Agency figured this out years ago.  In their procurement guidelines they specify , 45-100% recycled content in industrial paperboard, 25-50% in corrugated containers and 10% in coated fine papers used for annual reports, posters, brochures and magazines.

When it comes to procurement practices related to recycled content, we urge paper buyers to take a lesson from the EPA.  Think holistically, because with recycled content, it is not a one size fits all solution where more is always better.  There is a best use of recycled fiber.

Laura Thompson has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire and an M.S. and PhD in Paper Science from the Institute of Paper Science and Technology.  Since 1995, she has held a variety of positions within the paper industry including R&D, mill environmental, product development for specialties and coated fine paper, and most recently sustainability.  Since joining Sappi in 2006, Laura has quickly emerged as an industry leader in the field of sustainable development.

Reposted from the eQ Blog with permission from Sappi Fine Paper North America. For more information, please visit Sappi’s eQ Microsite.

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