By June 22, 1989, according to the EPA regulation described in the October issue of this Newsletter, all paper bought in significant amounts with federal funds will have to contain specified minimum levels of recycled fiber. This will include all book and office papers except "rag" content, forms bond and high speed copy papers. The requirement for recycled content is seen by many as a setback in the push to have the government adopt the use of permanent paper, partly because of the difficulty of finding paper that meets both requirements, and partly because quality may decline because of the inclusion of shorter fibers, unknown amounts of lignin and other contaminants in the recycled pulp.
A number of trends are developing simultaneously that bear on this issue:
1. Recycling has increased. According to the Dec. 1 Wall Street Journal, there is a glut in the paper markets:
Eastern municipalities, which got $50 a ton for old newspapers earlier this year, are starting to have to pay recyclers to take their paper. "The states in their great wisdom decided they should recycle," but they never figured out what to do with all the paper, says Shim Silverstein of United Paper Stock Co., Pawtucket, R.I. He's now charging new customers $25 a ton to take their paper. R. Lobosco & Sons Recyclers Inc., Paterson, N.J., just dropped its price to zero and says if things don't turn around, it will soon start charging, too.
The problem is worst on the East Coast, where charges of $10 to $25 a ton are still lower than landfill costs of up to $100 a ton, says Jerry Lobosco of R. Lobosco & Sons. But the problem is sending ripples to the West Coast, where the market price is $50 a ton and dropping, compared with $100 a ton in February, says Gary Liss, San Jose, Calif.'s solid-waste program manager.
The October American Papermaker confirm this, citing the API's "1987 Annual Statistical Summary--Waste Paper Utilization." The collection rate (the amount collected as a percent of the amount of paper used) was 28.5%, and the utilization rate (wastepaper consumed as a percent of total fiber used by U.S. producers) was 25%. The difference in the two percentages seems to relate to exports.
Wastepaper consumption at paper and board mills was up 9.3% in 1987 from 1986.
2. Wastepaper exports are rising sharply. In 1987, 4.4 M tons were exported (18%. more than in 1986). Much of it goes to Japan, where half of the paper is recycled; and to South Korea, Taiwan and Mexico.
3. Many mills are increasing their use of secondary (recycled) fiber because virgin pulp is now scarce and expensive. Even mills that normally do not use any wastepaper are considering using it (American Papermaker, Nov. 1988, p. 45); but there is a practical upper limit to which mills can substitute secondary fiber without hurting quality. Prices of high quality waste paper (e.g., envelope cuttings and ledger) have gone up, causing mills to downgrade, that is, to substitute cheaper grades for better ones.
4. More and more states are passing mandatory recycling laws. The November American Papermaker says (p. 45) that wastepaper quality usually declines under such laws because people get tired of sorting the paper for the recyclers. More and more contaminants are showing up, and the costs of recycling have risen. Some recycling companies have called for better education of legislators who write recycling laws.
5. States (Massachusetts, California and Illinois) are beginning to require use of recycled paper, like the federal government does.
6. It is becoming possible, according to a paper by L. D. Markham and C. E. Courchene in the December Tappi Journal, to produce high quality paper from low-grade waste paper. This is done by the use of oxygen bleaching, which enabled the authors to produce pulp similar in appearance to virgin kraft pulp, of good strength and brightness, starting with old corrugated containers.
Strong paper, however, cannot be made out of brittle fibers, because the fibers are so short and the amorphous regions, where the bonding would take place, are destroyed.
Alkaline paper, unlike acidic paper, can be recycled without significant loss of strength, and should eventually command good prices from waste paper companies. At present most or all of them are believed to accept alkaline paper reluctantly if at all because a) the fiber content of alkaline paper is lower and b) it foams when you combine it with acid paper or put it into an acid system.