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FLEXO Magazine : March 2008
PLANTS & PROCESSES www.flexography.org MARCH 2008 FLEXO 47 productivity of manufacturing operations based on natural raw materials such as trees and plants. The modern view of sus- tainability seems to be that the business world, together, can keep things working more efficiently and effectively for longer periods of time, than working individually ("doing what I can"). Sustainability, as it applies to the paper and allied industries today, is focused more directly on the three key factors mentioned above---sound forestry prac- tices, control of harvesting (especially in environmental-sensitive areas), and climate control---that collectively helps sustain the natural cycle of fiber growth and renewability far into the future. Techniques for evaluating and certifying operations in this regard are sustainability tools being used by businesses today, and these will continue to expand into the foreseeable future. THE RECYCLING DILEMMA Recycling certainly is not a new practice in the pulp and paper industry, driven by the recent need to be more sustainable. It has been going on for hundreds of years, and is generally practiced today in certain grade areas because it is economically fea- sible and attractive to do so, though some limited recycling is driven (or mandated) by environmental legislation in various states and countries. Today, very high percentages of waste paper streams are being recycled, especial- ly in the Western World. In 2006, a record 53.4 percent of paper consumed in the U.S. was recovered for recycling, compared with 33.5 percent in 1990, according to the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA). Paper recovery now averages 346 pounds for each man, woman, and child in the U.S., where the goal is 55 percent recovery by 2012. In 2006, 78 percent of U.S. paper and paperboard mills used some recovered paper and 149 mills used only recovered paper, according to AF&PA figures. The environmental impact is evident in the fact that every ton of paper that is recov- ered saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space. Paper recycling activities in European countries are similar to those in the U.S., with some percentages being even higher. Although recycling does have obvi- ous environmental advantages, there are some drawbacks or developing problems that have to be considered. In regard to sustainability, for example, there is some irony in the fact that as higher percentages of waste papers and board are recovered, the more difficult and costly it is becom- ing to establish and maintain operations based on these streams, and certain envi- ronmental trade-offs also arise. THE FIBER CEILING Clearly there are limits to how much paper and paperboard can be feasibly re- cycled. With containerboard, for example, AF&PA shows the OCC (old corrugated container) recycling rate in 2006 to be 76.4 percent, which is very high and up against the ceiling of what can be recycled. Being generally an unbleached, not- heavily-printed, uncontaminated source of recyclable fiber that is easily collected and sorted, OCC has been in strong demand for many years, and, in fact, has been recovered at very high rates for several decades. An elaborate collection structure for OCC has been in place for as long. Today, the demand for OCC is expanding worldwide as new capacity based on recy- cling goes up in Asia (especially China) and other areas of the world. Though there is still a complementary relationship between recycling and sus- tainability, an equally inverse relationship is also developing today in some grade areas, as demand shrinks the available supply. It might not be wise today, for example, to build new containerboard ca- pacity in the U.S. based on recycled fiber. It might be difficult to sustain such opera- tions economically or otherwise, which works against rather than supports the basic concept of sustainability. The same is true in other grade areas. Newspaper recovery rates in the U.S. in 2006 were also approaching the ceiling at 76.3 percent, which means that not much new newsprint capacity could be sustained in the future based on the available sup- ply of old newspapers (ONP). Recovery of other printing and writing papers was somewhat lower at 49 percent in 2006, according to AF&PA. Much of this P&W paper stream is mixed office waste pa- pers (MOW), which is relatively difficult to sort, but percentages are expected to climb even for this grade, especially since demand from Asia is already rising rapidly for these papers. ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS The recycling dilemma is also at work on the environmental side of the equa- tion. There is some concern, for example, that the concentration of deinked sludge from recycling of newsprint and other printed papers potentially places a strong load on the environment. The landfilling of such sludge can be a tedious and costly operation. Incineration has its own set of problems. Also, some experts and/or environmen- talists argue that removing paper from the landfill can allow increased amounts of heavy metals and other contaminants to enter the water table. This argument views waste paper in landfills as a highly effec- tive filter against contamination of the water table, similar to a coffee filter in a coffee maker appliance. It's a documented fact that newspapers buried in landfills do not deteriorate rapidly due to lack of oxygen, and that their printed inks thus do not generally contaminate water tables below. However, there have been no de- tailed studies done to support or disprove such claims. There also have been energy concerns in regard to some deinking/recycling pro- cesses versus corresponding virgin pulp- ing processes. But these issues have not been resolved and it is still unclear wheth- er certain recycling operations might be less or more energy efficient than their virgin counterparts, and whether it has a bigger or smaller carbon footprint. No matter how you look at it, sustain- ability and recycling are still close rela- tives, but their relationship has become somewhat strained or at least distant in recent years. Recycling is still very much a part of the overall environmental and sustainability picture for pulp and paper and its allied industries, but the future is becoming a bit clouded in that regard. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ken Patrick is senior editor of Paper 360o, the official maga- zine of the Technical Association of the Pulp & Paper Industry (TAPPI).