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De-Inking Plants Are Multiplying


OVER the next two years 16 newsprint recycling facilities are scheduled to come on line in Canada and the United States, doubling the capacity of paper mills to use old newsprint. This could end the glut of old newspapers available for recycling. Paper companies are adding the new de-inking facilities largely as a result of increasing demand from newspaper publishers, who must expand their use of recycled newsprint under laws or voluntary agreements that have sprung up in 15 states during the past three years.

``The paper industry now understands the strategic importance of recycling,'' says John Ruston of the Environmental Defense Fund in New York. A glut of old newsprint developed late in 1988 as cities and waste haulers, confronted by rising landfill costs, increased collection efforts for recycling.

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Now, demand for recycled newsprint is firming up. Publishers are pledging to increase use of recycled newsprint, and states such as California and Florida have laws mandating recycled content. Here in Massachusetts, newspaper publishers promised the state they would seek 50 percent recycled newsprint by the year 2000, provided the paper was competitive in quality and price with virgin newsprint. Similar voluntary agreements have been reached in other states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York.

``We will not renew contracts with manufacturers that don't use recycled newsprint by 1992,'' says William Metzfield, president of Gannett Supply Corporation, which buys newsprint for 83 Gannett-owned newspapers.

With paper mills adapting to meet this demand, the onus may soon be on cities and towns to collect more old newsprint.

``We'll see a real shortage of waste paper'' by 1993 or 1994, predicts Brian McClay of the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association. At present, North American newsprint producers make about 2.3 million tons of recycled newsprint at nine sites. By 1992, nine new sites in the US and eight in Canada will boost that capacity to 4.6 million tons, says the American Newspaper Publishers Association. The total 1992 US newsprint market will be 14.3 million tons, the ANPA forecasts.

Mr. McClay says the new recycling capacity will create a demand for 1.5 million tons of old newsprint beyond what is already collected from North American consumers. Currently, about 37 percent of used newsprint is collected for recycling.

Old magazines will also be in demand, since de-inking technology in the new plants requires 30 percent coated paper and 70 percent newsprint. The de-inking process removes ink and ash to prepare the fibers for reuse.

Lining up sources for old magazines will be ``another challenge,'' McClay says. By 1995, de-inking activity may use 30 to 40 percent of all magazines printed in the US, according to the Magazine Publishers of America (See related story below).

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At most of the 16 new sites coming on line by 1992, de-inking capacity will be added at an existing mill, typically to produce paper with 25 to 45 percent recycled content. While some mills use 100 percent recycled content, it is more common to mix virgin pulp, which contains longer fibers, with the pulp from old papers. De-inking facilities typically cost between $30 million and $80 million, and take about three years to get going.

With costs like this, paper companies needed to feel sure that the supply of old newsprint and demand for the recycled content would be there before committing to new projects. In addition to the rise of municipal collection programs on the supply side, the new state laws and voluntary agreements with publishers were a decisive factor for the paper companies.

For Canadian companies, which ship 80 percent of their newsprint to the US, the shift to recycled content will mean paying to transport old newsprint long distances back to their de-inking sites, which are mostly in Ontario and Quebec.

Jefferson Smurfit Corporation recently announced plans to build a mill in New York State that will have easier access to old newsprint than its competitors to the North. The plant will use 300,000 tons of waste paper to produce 250,000 tons of newsprint a year.

Last year, only about a third of collected newspapers went back into newsprint, Mr. Ruston says. Another third went into materials such as the paperboard used in shoe boxes, which do not require de-inking, and 20 percent was exported to countries such as Japan that rely on used newsprint for pulp. As the new plants start up, the percentage used for North American newsprint promises to increase, while other types of old paper will take the place of old newsprint in paperboard and other products, Ruston says.

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