ISRI says paper mills skeptical of mixed waste processing shipments

ISRI says paper mills skeptical of mixed waste processing shipments

Paper mills reject the use of recovered paper sorted from “one-bin programs,” according to survey.

February 23, 2016

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, has released the preliminary results of a survey of paper mill buyers in North America on their thoughts and experiences with materials purchased from mixed waste processing centers.

Mixed waste processing centers process recyclables that are commingled with municipal solid waste, claiming to separate the recyclables from the waste as a material recovery facility (MRF)-like facility postcollection.

While other recent studies about mixed waste processing centers have been conducted, ISRI says this is the first known study that exclusively solicited views of recovered paper buyers regarding their opinions and views about the ability to successfully use the recyclables sorted from such “one-bin” programs.

“We gained an incredible amount of learning from the survey participants regarding their experiences and preferences concerning the procurement of recovered fiber for their paper mills,” says Robin Wiener, president of ISRI.

“In 2014, ISRI issued a policy statement discouraging the use of one-bin collection systems due to anecdotal statements and strong feelings from our member companies regarding the degradation in quality of recyclables recovered from such systems,” she continues, “but it wasn’t until the completion of this survey that we finally gleaned hard data from paper mills about the poor quality and contamination that they are actually experiencing and the resulting impact on their purchasing and sourcing decisions.

“It is clear from this study that in communities where mixed-waste processing systems are put in place, the recycling of paper is significantly diminished, both in quality and quantity,” Wiener says.

Highlights from the survey include:

  • Eighty-two percent of respondents purchase recovered fiber for one to six mills, and 49 percent of respondents purchase material in the range of more than 100,000 tons per year but less than 500,000 tons of recovered fiber per year.
  • Of the respondents, 25 percent said they purchase “some” material from dirty MRFs, but these mills purchase less than 10 percent of their required tonnage from mixed waste processing centers.
  • Of those that purchase recovered fiber from mixed waste processing centers, 70 percent find the quality to be worse than most other recovered paper, and 90 percent of those mill buyers have had to downgrade or reject the paper from the mixed waste processing centers at a higher rate than recovered paper from “regular” MRFs.
  • Sixty-two percent, or nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they felt that ISRI specs should contain a statement that reads “paper recovered from one-bin programs, separated in mixed-waste processing centers, is not fit for use in USA paper mills.”
  •  Of the 75 percent of respondents who do not purchase recovered fiber from mixed waste processing centers, the top eight reasons given were:
  1.  contamination;
  2.  odor;
  3.  low quality;
  4.  exhibit a higher level of prohibitives and outthrows versus what is acceptable;
  5.  internal quality standards prevent purchasing;
  6.  too risky;
  7.  excessive moisture; and
  8.  quality will not meet the mills' customers' needs.

ISRI confidentially surveyed North American paper mill buyers between Jan. 11 and Jan. 31, 2016. An independent, third-party research firm was utilized to conduct the online survey. To achieve a high response rate, the survey was limited to less than 10 critical questions, ISRI says. All major mill groups using recovered paper in North America were invited to participate in the survey, whether or not they were members of ISRI.

A full copy of the research report can be obtained by filling out the form available at