Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Spin & Buzzzzzzz

Quite a buzz with Monday’s press release of the new “greener” High Yield Business Paper being marketed by Xerox. Is there true hoopla to be made about this being greener paper? Well, yes there is a considerable amount of reduction in raw material used to produce mechanical pulp, there is no denying that. In fact I have high hopes for mechanical pulp being used for paper production, in place of kraft pulp. But while the press release claims this is some “First-Of-Its-Kind Paper”, I remember another brand that was “flop-of-its-kind” some years back.

Plus any press release nowadays that has the word greener in quotes (third paragraph of the press release) is something for the jaundiced eye.

However, unlike the recent claims of being carbon neutral made by some pulp mills that suddenly want to tout the fact that they burn biomass (“for years we burned biomass, but today we burn biomass and are carbon neutral”), there actually is something here to this mechanical pulp yield issue…a point some in the paper industry feel they haven’t been given credit for environmentally.

Mechanical pulp (ground, thermo-pulverized and similar processed pulp that does not remove lignin) requires less wood input compared to kraft pulp (chemical process pulp that removes lignin). So yes, less trees. And many of the mechanical pulp processes use less chemical brightening; can use alternatives to chlorine compounds such as peroxide, and can use less calcium carbonate, titanium dioxide and other brighteners.

So if a paper user replaces kraft pulp paper with a mechanical pulp paper, there could indeed be significantly less environmental impact. But mechanical paper has to replace kraft paper.

Some mills claim that because they make mechanical pulp they should be given credit for producing an environmentally beneficial product. Well, no--that is what they produce--did yesterday and will tomorrow. If a mill producing kraft pulp suddenly switched to producing mechanical pulp and thus reduced the amount of wood input--well then, they may actually have a point. But similar to the issue of biomass burning mills claiming to be suddenly carbon neutral…there has to be an actual sea-change in production method, not just the sudden “light-bulb-going-off” that they are green and carbon neutral. (Light bulb usually goes off in the marketing department).

So is this Xerox High Yield Business Paper really new? Well, it’s new in that Xerox has found a product they are willing to put the Xerox brand name on. Mechanical pulp office papers have been around for years…18lb tractor-feed computer paper, 18lb. groundwood forms bond…and a favorite of mine some 15 years ago, an office/copy paper called Unity DP, which was produced by the Hammermill division of International Paper (IP).

Unity DP was not only a mechanical pulp paper, it was also entirely recycled content, produced at the IP mill in Lockhaven, Pennsylvania. The paper was made from recycled newspapers and magazines. Prior to IP marketing Unity DP, the method to produce recycled mechanical office paper was developed by Steinbeis Temming of Germany and was marketed under the brand name Recyconomic. Not only was Unity DP high recycled content…it sold for the dirt-cheap price of $18-20 per carton, considerably less than most virgin office paper. It was so cheap that schools, nonprofits and other budget conscious paper users would buy it up.

Sadly, IP discontinued producing Unity DP in 1998 and dismantled the deinking mill in Lockhaven, claiming the product never caught on with the paper buying public. Bizarrely, IP made one last parting shot in the announcement of the brand’s demise, claiming the failure of the brand on the over-zealous promises of environmentalists that there would be a market for the paper. Meanwhile, school districts around the country struggle to be able to afford office paper.

In recent years the kraft pulp office and printing paper market has focused on producing heavier basis weights (24lb in place of 20lb), and brighter white papers (92 GE bright, up from 84 GE standard of 3 years ago). So to see Xerox market a brand that is less bright, lighter weight and made with mechanical pulp is a good thing. But Xerox is hardly the first kid on the block with this. Years ago, Abitibi-Consolidated, a newsprint producing giant, started producing mechanical pulp offset papers that compete with kraft pulp offset printing papers, under the brand names Equal and Alternative Offset. Bowater (which is merging with Abitibi) produces a similar brand, BowHybrid. So the story is not as new as the Xerox press release makes out.

The mechanical paper in place of kraft paper market is growing.

What would be good is if mechanical papers can replace kraft paper used for such low-life-span items such as utility bills, direct mail and other easily tossed items. Maybe someone will produce similar mechanical office paper that can be purchased by cash-strapped school districts. And more important, if recycled fiber can again be the source of some of that mechanical pulp.

Last, to address an issue that plagued the Unity DP brand. Some recycling advocates found fault with mechanical paper being mingled with kraft paper in office paper collection programs. True, mechanical paper will downgrade the quality and usefulness of white paper collected in office paper recycling programs. However, when used for direct mail and utility bills, much of this mechanical paper will end up in residential collection programs, which are a tangled mix of paper grades that are not destined for high-grade deinking mills that need sorted, clean white paper. And used in schools--well most schools I have seen recycle using the same collection methods used for residential recycling collection, not those found in office building collection programs.

2 comments:

Malka said...

Hey ,
Sounds great that you know all about your stuff! Its intriguing when you speak to someone who knows what they speak about, as oppose to reciting it from someone else they learned from. I can see you are very experienced and with your credentials it is quite obvious that you will make it far in life, or have already made it far in life :)
Xerox Solid Ink Outlet

lazyleo said...

Interesting that you speak of Mechanical Recycling as better and more environmental friendly than Kraft recycling.There is so little about Mechanical recycling out there on the web, in comparison to Kraft process. Thank you for sharing!