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Softness slows enviro-paper shipments

Posted on October 1, 1998

North America is awash in paper. The unfavorable currency situation and financial crisis in Asia is drawing tons of paper to our shores. Uncoated freesheet imports are up 30% (from Canada, Asia, and Brazil), and coated paper is up 10% (from Europe and Asia). Mills have done a good job of curbing inventory, but it has not been enough to keep prices firm.

This soft market has also clogged developments that are “environmentally friendly.” Recycled-content, “tree-free,” chlorine-free, and a host of other alternative-fiber paper products are all stalled. No growth is expected in any segment, and few successes have been reported. On the other hand, that has not stopped producers from innovating.

Modest Capacity Growth

Overall U.S. capacity of printing and writing papers and newsprint is scheduled to grow only about 1% to 2% for the next five to 10 years. One machine for magazine paper may come up in Canada, and an uncoated machine is being talked about for Mexico. All new capacity is virgin, wood fiber-based, and very little recycling equipment is being purchased by printing and writing mills.

(Newsprint and board mills continue their consumption of recycled fiber.).

Some smaller mills are continuing to experiment with alternative fibers (such as bamboo, blue grass, kenaf, and cotton), but nothing sustaining.

Eco-Shipments Stalled

Shipments of recovered fiber, as defined by the American Forest & Paper Association, Washington, D.C., are now growing at an annual rate of 2.1%, which is a decrease of 75% from the 1990s. It also sinks AF&PA’s goal of having the recovery rate up around 55% by 2001. The actual share of recovered fiber in all papermaking will settle at around 36%, while in both printing and writing grades it will fall below 10%.

Government purchases of uncoated and coated paper still drives production. The largest share remains copy paper. Mills have set aside machine time to stock for the finicky government purchasing strategies. For commercial printing customers, production and stocking of recycled grades is very selective and conservative. In any case, recycled-content grades for most of your favorite brands are readily available.

Lack of Demand

The lack of recycled orders have also strained production of recycled fiber. Many companies had installed equipment that took in wastepaper and produced recycled fiber pulp of good quality. Some projects ended up bankrupt, and production was either curtailed or directed toward industrial boards and tissues.

In Europe, recovered paper is still on the upswing. Western Europe’s recovery rate is over 50%, and in places like Sweden, it is above 60%. The driving force is government and industrial grade specification. (Packaging grades continue to grow strongly in Europe). In Japan, the recovery rate is 53%, and growth is flat.

Chlorine-Free Interest

The arguments against products bleached with chlorine are still with us, but the industry on a worldwide basis has successfully addressed the concerns. Almost 90% of all bleached pulp is made with either oxygen or chlorine dioxide, both of which leave next to zero dioxin residual in product or effluent.

The industry’s overall generation of dioxin compounds has been reduced by 95%. Two associations have been formed, the Alliance for Environmental Technology (AET) and the Chlorine-Free Products Association (CFPA), and both remain active with annual conferences and publications.

AET is an ally of the forest products association, while CFPA is a pressure group that obtains allies in the paper industry through certification and branding.

AET follows and supports the progress of such mills as Champion that, even after cutting chlorine use, are continuing efforts on recycling mill effluents that minimize or eliminate the environmental impact outside the mill site. In 1998, Consolidated Papers started making ECF (elemental chlorine-free) pulp; Domtar added a tower that replaced chlorine for chlorine dioxide bleaching; S.D. Warren implemented a substitution program for chlorine at its mill in Somerset, Me.; and Georgia-Pacific is doing the same at its mill in Woodland, Me.

Cooperation with EPAAET also works with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which recently commended the industry in its fish and wildlife monitoring, an area where 13 of 19 states have lifted consumption restrictions in part because of the industry’s reduction of dioxin release.

Canada is also being included on the improvement list.

CFPA leans more to the TCF (totally chlorine free) camp; its certification program has two marks, TCF and PCF (processed chlorine free, which is mostly for recycled grades). CFPA counts among its supporters recycled pulp producers and makers of groundwood-based grades, as well as TCF pulp makers like Sodra and Louisiana-Pacific.

New grades that are having success are a new cash register roll from NCR called Enviro-100; a coated line from Scheufelen (Phoenix and Phoeno brands); and Manistique’s 100 TM, Internet TM, and other specialty grades.

Alternative Fibers News

Like most non-wood fiber developments, alternative fiber use is expanding very slowly, but interest has not eased.

Canada just legalized industrial hemp production, and associations all over the United States are popping up to support hemp harvests here. The economies of hemp production and its economy in papermaking are still largely in question, but its diversity of use, in clothing and sacks and so on, is an attraction.

Because of its rope-like structure, hemp is a very tough fiber to process, which makes it much tougher than Douglas fir, the closest fiber for paper-making. Hemp is nearly impossible to bleach without chlorine or harsh oxidants.

Nevertheless, new products have been released. Crane has a new text and cover line made from 50% hemp and 50% rag called Continuum.

A distributor called Living Tree Paper is selling a text and cover grade called Vanguard Hemp, which is made from hemp, cotton, and post-consumer waste.

Kenaf is another popular crop fiber. Unlike hemp, it is relatively easy to pulp and process, though not easy to bleach. Kenaf has plenty of applications in printing and writing and newsprint, but few takers to date.

Vision Paper, a pioneer in kenaf paper innovations, has released a new line called Re:Vision, lightweight text and cover papers for letterhead and commercial printing. Re:Vision is a blend of kenaf and post- and pre-consumer waste.

Forest Conservation

The paper industry is diligently continuing its educational program on forest preservation and conservation.

AF&PA has its own Forests Forever program, which it provides to communities for school children and citizens. The program teaches kids and adults about forest regeneration, natural and commercial, and how the industry supports both. Forests Forever has been most popular with communities that have forest products companies as neighbors.

A few companies stand out in their public documentation of forest conservation. Westvaco claims to have the oldest, continuously operating industrial forest research program in the nation. This program is striving toward a year 2000 goal of producing twice the fiber in half the time and half the cost compared to an equivalent model in 1995. Productivity of Westvaco’s forests are climbing eight to nine times per year, and several patents on biotechnology have been awarded.

Preventing Pollution

Westvaco publishes an environmental annual report each year. Consolidated Papers issues its Pollution Prevention report annually as well. (The general partnership includes 26 paper companies and 44 partners in Wisconsin.) Consolidated’s recent work at its pulp mill eliminated chlorine use, reduced waste water discharge to 19% of allowed volume, and increased its landspreading activities (using waste water to enhance agricultural soil).

Since 1990, Consolidated reports that it has spent $150 million on projects to reduce its environmental impact and $178 million on operating environmental protection equipment. The company continues to work with its partners on air emission abatement, reducing landfill use, recycling, and further reductions in water and land impact.

In Europe, Enso (now part of Stora), has won the award for most environmentally conscious forest products company in the European Community. The company’s forest practices — which include protecting biotopes — harvests using sustaining methods, closed-loop pulp production, and efficient use of byproducts (like pelletizing bark for fuel).

Copyright © 1998, Graphic Arts Monthly. All rights reserved.