Having just come back from several paper recycling conferences, I must say there is more to the industry than meets the eye. While I do my best to keep up to date with all the activity in the paper recycling industry, getting out and talking to recyclers in person gives me a far better appreciation of what they are currently dealing with. Talking to people on the phone and interacting via email are often fast and easy ways to keep track of general business conditions; but, meeting face to face, I find, is a great way to really get a feel for the business.
If I focus on what I hear and read from my office, I would think the paper and paper recycling industries were on their way to extinction. The daily complaints about lack of generation for many grades of fiber, tighter quality specifications from paper and paperboard mills and pricing volatility as well as the general malaise I hear from many segments of the paper industry would make me a permanent bear.
However, one thing I often forget is that many paper recyclers are, by nature, entrepreneurs. And, despite the challenging environment, these entrepreneurs are looking at the next big opportunity. Networking with other individuals at these shows gives many recyclers the idea or foundation for the next big thing.
As for me, I am quite impressed at some of the concepts and projects the recyclers I talk to at conferences are putting together. For those people who feel that going to a conference is just an excuse to have some fun and get away from the office, the number of business deals that result from these events definitely refutes that idea.
By interacting with many recyclers face to face at conferences, I come away far more hopeful about the industry. As challenging as paper stock markets may be currently, many paper recycling industry executives are positioning their companies for or creating new businesses that tap future market opportunities. That may mean handling different commodities, establishing unique partnerships or even introducing spinoff companies that are far removed from the traditional paper recycling business.
Regardless of how these paper recycling professionals respond to the challenges they are facing presently, after covering the recycling industry, especially the paper sector, for more years than I would like to admit, the resiliency of this segment of the industry never ceases to amaze me. And that makes covering this industry far more interesting and engaging and leaves me more optimistic about the future of the industry.