Axel Fischer, head of public relations, INGEDE
Oct. 30, 2007
Paper recycling is becoming more and more difficult. Mills that produce graphic paper want to turn a resource recovered from households into office paper and newsprint as well as hygiene papers. In many European countries there is a strong political demand to use more recycled fibers, including for higher grades such as magazine papers.
Higher quality output not only requires more effort but also a certain quality of input. Although there are ways of securing a constant stream of recovered paper that can be used to produce paper that meets the demand for high brightness and zero visible specks, the reality is often different.
The paper industry already struggles with printing technologies that use undeinkable inks such as those employed in flexo printing or liquid toners for digital prints. In the case of flexo, there are alternatives that are more easily recyclable but they seem to cost a cent too much for the printer to use them. So flexo-printed papers from the UK such as the Daily Mail, or newspapers from Italy spoil the recycling process designed to separate offset or gravure inks from the fibers. The current flexo inks leave a visible shade in the recycled paper nobody would want to buy newsprint with the resulting low brightness. All the paper industry can do is to keep flexo-printed paper out of the system, and to avoid recovered paper from regions in the UK or Italy where flexo-printed newspapers are predominant.
While the flexo issue still challenges the deinkers, another trend raises new quality concerns. Wherever paper is collected together with plastic, cans or glass, the fraction of contaminants increases dramatically even in the sorted recovered paper. In the UK more and more communities try to save money by collecting all kinds of recyclables together, with alarming results: The mills already feel the contaminants.
The downside of single-stream collection
Recently, The Economist praised the advantages of commingled collection. "Single-stream collection makes it more convenient for householders to recycle, and means that more materials are diverted from the waste stream. San Francisco, which changed from multi to single-stream collection a few years ago, now boasts a recycling rate of 69% one of the highest in America."
What is not reported are the serious consequences for the quality of material recovered. Recycling rates for all recyclables together cannot be the only measure. The question is: what happens with the recovered material? A decrease in the quality of the recovered paper delivered to the paper mill had been expected when many communities in the US Pacific Northwest switched to single-stream collection. "But we didn't expect it to be that bad", says Jerry Carlof, supervisor of the deinking plant of a mill in Oregon. "Today we have about 17% contaminants in the paper. And we are happy when it's close to 10%."
Magnified by more than 500 short tons of feedstock per day, this translates into more than 80 tons being lost each day. These 80 tons are not only contaminants that the paper industry buys as raw material. They are also 80 tons that have to be disposed of every day, at the paper industry's expense.
In Germany, the limit for contaminants agreed upon with recovered paper merchants is 2.5%. And still the mills try to keep out of the system what they cannot recycle; here it is mainly brown board and plastic. In the USA and UK, an increasing number of communities are adopting single-stream collection systems whereby core materials (paper, plastic, glass, steel, and aluminum) are combined and collected together with sorting occurring at a material recovery facility (MRF). Recycling program coordinators cite several reasons for the move away from source-separated and toward single-stream collection systems: Lower collection costs are again their main argument, while more recyclables are also diverted from the waste stream.
Benefits become less apparent when examined as a whole. The Oregon mill is not alone. US newsprint manufacturers in particular noted increased incidents of contamination such as plastic film and fine particulates of broken glass or cullet in old newspaper bales. A 2005 study found that the supplies of old newspapers from single-stream programs averaged contamination levels of 15%, compared with less than 0.5% for old newspapers collected from source-separated programs.
Paper mills say that 39 million lb (17,690,000 kg) of plastics were sent to their mills in one year because of poor sorting. The consequence is increasing cost for landfill and for replacing damaged equipment in the mill. To cope with the glass, Carlof says his mill needs high-density cleaners. The abrasive pieces constantly destroy the expensive interior it has to be replaced frequently. "If we get six months we're happy," he says.
As a consequence, mills have to close. The paper they get costs too much money to process. A paper mill in the Los Angeles basin had to shut down because it could not compete with prices paid for paper export any more. Now even more paper recovered in California goes to China. The exports of poor quality paper from the UK are also rising, leaving European mills deprived of another valuable resource.
For more information visit: www.ingede.com
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