PPRC 2016: Specifying grades and rates

Paper recyclers discussed the new recovered fiber specifications, as well as real recovery rates during the PSI Session Oct. 20.

October 24, 2016
Megan Workman
Conferences & Events Municipal / IC&I Paper

Paper recyclers recognize the need for new recovered fiber grade specifications, yet some suppliers question the lack of news grades now. The paper specification revisions were discussed during the session hosted by the Paper Stock Industries (PSI) Chapter of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, at the 2016 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference Oct. 20 in Chicago.

The recovered fiber specifications approved by ISRI in April 2016 went into effect quietly in June 2016, said moderator Bill Moore, president of Moore & Associates, an Atlanta-based consulting firm for the paper and paper recycling industry.

“How many people are using the new specifications?” Moore asked the 100-plus audience of mostly buyers, sellers, processors, brokers and exporters of recovered fiber.

Without anyone raising a hand, Moore recognized that the changes will take some time to roll out. Officially, the deleted specifications—news grades Nos. 6, 7 and 8; mix grades Nos. 1, 2 and 3—expire Dec. 31, 2016. PSI launched the grades at the 2015 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference in Chicago.

Speaker Johnny Newsome, director, global mill supply and trade sales for Sonoco Recycling, pointed out how the newly revised No. 56 sorted residential papers (SRP), which replaces the No. 8 old newspaper (ONP) grade, does not include the word news in the title. Sonoco Recycling is a unit of the packaging products maker Sonoco Products Co., Hartsville, South Carolina, and runs 21 paper machines at 13 mills across the country. The company processes 1.3 million tons of paperboard annually. 

Newsome said neither of the new PSI grades—SRP and No. 58 sorted clean news (SCN)—accurately describes the more than 1 million tons of ONP currently produced at U.S. MRFs, which are then sold domestically and globally. 

He said he was puzzled by this missing piece.

“It’s confusing for us because [the PSI revisions] didn’t recognize news in the grade,” Newsome said.

“It sounds more like mixed paper,” he added.

To deal with this, Sonoco Recycling recently set up a major contract for ONP and did not use PSI’s specifications, Newsome shared. Rather, the company created its own specification and referred to it as ONP. 

When it comes to future contracts, Newsome said he does not foresee supply managers using the specification SRP to make deals. “I don’t see us calling mills in Asia and saying we have SRP; we’ll be saying ONP for sure,” Newsome said.

Each mill has its own recipe and process for how it buys and sells, said Kari Talvola of Burlingame, California-based Fibre Trade Inc., who serves as PSI’s specifications committee chair.

“The news grade is going down; OCC [old corrugated containers] is the largest,” Talvola said in response to the lack of news in revised specifications. 

She said there are “a lot of people working on this” to ensure the recovered fiber specifications are fitting for MRFs. PSI has been looking into what is being sold and produced. In addition, the committee heard input from members as well as nonmembers at its second annual Specifications Summit Feb. 3-5, 2016, in New Orleans. However, Talvola said PSI has received much less feedback on news and mixed grades revisions than when the committee discussed OCC specifications. 

Highlighting the need to get away from news grades, speaker Steve Wilson, director, commodity sales, Waste Management Recycling Services, Houston, said mill consumers and suppliers know when they’re selling off-specification. “No. 8 news has always been a problem grade and never really existed,” Wilson said.

Yet, no matter what grade is being traded, Wilson said it is helpful to have a common language. “Let’s get the same description used by everyone,” he said. 

Rob Barnwell, recovered fiber specialist for Kousa International, Los Angeles, agreed. He said new specifications were certainly necessary. While Barnwell said it is possible to “get really clean ONP out of single-stream” MRFs, when it comes to No. 8 ONP, there aren’t too many true bales of the grade being made. 

“You have to have somewhere to start,” Barnwell said. “Specifications will always will be an important part of discussions with municipal contracts you have to have a starting point.

In the end, mills will buy what they need and will pay what they have to pay, Barnwell said.

When it comes to recovery rates in the U.S., the figures are not as high as previously thought, according a separate presentation during the PSI session. “Demystifying MSW Recycling Rates,” led by Moore and Peter Engel of Kessler Consulting Inc., a solid waste consulting firm based in Tampa, Florida, shows there are opportunities and challenges for recovery rates, Engel said.

Moore and Engel presented their findings from the study, which they said they believe is the first to integrate national municipal solid waste (MSW) recovery rate data and distinguish between residential sectors versus industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sectors.

The pair began their research in early 2016 and published the white paper in June 2016. Engel said they found that recovery rates did not have a common metric, with numerous methods using various data, causing confusion and inconsistencies. Recovery rates, he said, are a common metric for measuring progress.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) rate of 34 percent has been the benchmark for decades. This top-down material flow analysis is the opposite of the survey from the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF), Raleigh, North Carolina, which has a bottom-up approach, Engel explained. The EREF traveled to MRFs, scrap yards, landfills, paper mills and other facilities to collect information for its rate. Engel said he and Moore preferred EREF’s methodology.

“The industry needed a common understanding,” Moore said. In one city in New Jersey, the municipality included automobile shredding materials as its recovered material, Moore said.

To get a better understanding of rates, Engel suggested asking three questions: 

  • What generator types are included in recovery and disposal? 
  • What categories of materials are included in recovery? 
  • How is the data collected and reported? 

He recommended moving the recovery needle and looking beyond to the ICI sector.

 “This is a really important distinction that needs to be made,” Engel said, referencing these statistics: 

  • Estimated materials recovery is 23 percent of MSW nationally, with organics recovery adding another 5 percent, for a total of 28 percent, less than the EPA’s 34 percent recovery rate.  
  • ICI sector recovers an estimated 30 percent of its MSW through materials recycling, while residential materials recovery is estimated to be 14 percent of MSW generated.

The 2016 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference was Oct. 19-21 in Chicago at the Marriott Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile.