Stacked cardboard
To make recycled pulp, mills will use a blend of old corrugated containers (OCC) and mixed paper.
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Recycled pulp prospects

A handful of paper mills are producing unbleached recycled pulp, and more projects are in the pipeline.

August 16, 2021

Unbleached recycled fiber pulp (URP), also referred to as recycled fiber (RCF) pulp, is a relatively new grade of market pulp that is produced using recovered paper that has been processed through fiber stock preparation systems, formed and then dried or dewatered and shipped in bales or rolls. Wet lap pulp is a wetter version of URP. 

Many URP projects were in response to China’s restrictions and ultimate ban on recovered paper imports. While paper mills in China can’t import old corrugated containers (OCC) to make containerboard, these mills can import URP. Some recyclers have wondered if China could reverse its ban on recovered paper imports, which would greatly reduce the need for URP. Johnny Gold, president of Boston-based The Gold Group Recycling Consultants LLC, says he doesn’t think that will be the case, though.

“I don’t think these recycled pulp projects are just a Band-Aid because the investment made into them is multiple millions to build new machines and retrofit them,” he says. “I still think it’s economically expensive, but this must be the way mills over in Asia have to handle it.” 

To make recycled pulp, mills use a blend of OCC as well as some mixed paper. The pulp can be used to make either containerboard or away-from-home tissue products. To make containerboard, URP incorporates higher levels of OCC; to make away-from-home tissue products, URP incorporates higher levels of mixed paper.

Recovered paper prices began to rise at the start of this year, and the URP price also followed a similar trend upward to start the year. At the start of the year, Fastmarkets RISI began tracking brown recycled pulp pricing. In January, brown recycled pulp was $450 per ton CIF (cost, insurance and freight) to China. The price rose to $480 per ton CIF in February and to $520 per ton CIF in March. However, the price has hovered at about $520 per ton since then and was at $515 per ton CIF in July.

A handful of mills currently produce URP. Some speculative projects also are said to be on the way in the U.S. and Southeast Asia. Bill Moore, president of Atlanta-based Moore & Associates, provides a list of URP projects that are completed and those anticipated to come in the future.

Existing dried URP mills:

• Lee & Man, Selangor, Malaysia – 400,000 metric tons per year (wet lap); 

• Lee & Man, Bago, Myanmar – 340,000 metric tons per year (wet lap); 

• Nine Dragons, Pahang, Malaysia – 400,000 metric tons per year (wet lap); 

• ND Paper LLC, Fairmont, West Virginia – 217,000 metric tons per year;  

• ND Paper LLC, Old Town, Maine – 66,000 metric tons per year;   

• NORPAC, Longview, Washington – 135,000 metric tons per year (existing machine with intermittent production); 

• Shanying/AA, Chonburi, Thailand – 300,000 metric tons per year; and

• Sun Paper, Xepon, Laos – 400,000 metric tons per year. 

Planned pulp mill:

• Zhejiang Jingxing, Selangor, Malaysia – 800,000 metric tons per year. 

Speculative pulp mills and projects: 

• Kamine Development Corp., Tampa, Florida – 575,000 metric tons per year; 

• Nine Dragons, Maharashtra, India – 500,000 metric tons per year; and 

• Shanying, Southeast Asia – 770,000 metric tons per year. 

For a longer story on recycled pulp markets and insights from a recycled pulp producer, check out the upcoming September issue of Recycling Today.