Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Real Wastebasket Jumpshot

Countless times I have gotten together with paper industry people and usually when guys (mostly) are involved, the discussions quickly move to sports-jock talk. While I don’t have the clichéd golf clubs in my trunk, I can hold down my end of the conversation if it involves major league baseball. However, more often than not, it devolves into a discussion of collegiate football or basketball…to me it's like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher.

So anyway, some month’s back, Sports Illustrated contacted me about the piles of mail (p-a-p-e-r) that NCAA teams send to potential recruits who are still in high school. The resulting article was in the August 3rd issue. Most of the article centers on a top high school player from Santa Barbara, California. Keep an eye out for Roberto Nelson at Oregon State over the next few years.

So yours truly got to be in Sports Jock Heaven…Sports Illustrated. Here’s the article and it does involve paper!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Black Liquor -- Never So Tasty

Did you ever see Matthew Lasko, the guy wearing the question-mark covered suit on TV infomercials touting free government money giveaways? I always thought it was a joke. Man, I guess I have missed the boat.

The latest opportunity seems to be the pulp & paper industry getting multi-million dollar payments and tax credits from the US government for doing something the industry has been doing for the past 70 years, powering their mills by burning the recovery boiler black liquor residual. Well, actually there is something new in that they have to add some diesel fuel to the black liquor burn to qualify as an alternative fuel, and thus be able to obtain a tax-credit/subsidy. They get this by taking advantage of a loophole some clever paper industry people found in a 2005 highway transportation bill.

As recently reported in The Nation, Washington Post and other sources, the practice of burning black liquor at pulp mills started in the 1930s, but the opportunity for an alternative fuels tax credit is something most pulp mills with recovery boiler operations could now qualify for. Why would any paper company pass up a Wesley Snipes-like, jump-on-the-bandwagon, we-twisted-it tax scheme?

International Paper Company recently touted its windfall of $79 million for one month of operation.

Clearly this tax credit/subsidy for black liquor burning was not the intent of the 2005 highway transportation bill. The alternative fuels tax credit was intended to stimulate and create incentives for new production of non-fossil fuels. Not to support existing 1930’s technology.

Possibly kudos should be considered for the people who discovered that pulp mills could, with the minor addition of diesel fuel, be the recipients of US Government largess. But the whole thing is so similar to the public’s perception of undeserved bonus money going to AIG executives, that maybe it could backfire. The potential public relations disaster should cause any paper company boardroom to pause. My thought: discontinue the practice…and maybe send back any money already received. The bad publicity is not worth it.

Back during the Reagan Administration, I am certain the idea of having ketchup qualify as a vegetable for school lunch programs was not an Oval Office decision. It was some USDA wise guys who made that “cost effective” pronouncement. But the Reagan Presidency was widely ridiculed as cynical for allowing such a definition in school lunch nutrition programs. It was a PR nightmare for the White House.

Likewise, some bean-counting, tax code-researching, buried-at-headquarters MBAs uncovered the potential to reap some generous rewards from everyday operations at pulp mills…maybe it required an additional meeting to make some minor modifications. But now the boardroom is going to have to deal with resulting heat. Given our current economic climate, the public may lump this in with any and all public money bailout abuse.

Situations like this make our country's operations look amateurish. This just adds to America’s unfavorable standing in the world. Hell, even the Canadians are getting pissed off at us.

The paper industry in the US does need help and support. But let’s reward jobs and innovation. Not existing everyday technology. These recovery boilers, which are the money-making engines referred to in this alternative fuels subsidy issue were called "...old, relatively inefficient, high maintenance and vulnerable to catastrophic smelt water explosions" in a joint US paper industry and US Department of Energy report in 2006. Senators Baucus and Grassley want to put a stop to the loophole. No doubt pressure will mount to keep the loophole in place. Maybe a review of the report will remind the paper industry that just a few years ago they were focused on the new and innovative...not 70 year old technology.

Someone found this tax loophole and presented it to higher ups. The problem is higher ups in charge said “cool!”.

Time to call this a bad idea and shut it down.

With this said, I still may just send away to Pueblo, Colorado and get one of those government booklets on give-away programs. I may be missing out too.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

hang on while we all go down the tubes

The other day I was described as "harsh" by the blogger over at Dead Tree Edition.

But check out his or her (they are anonymous) recent post. I'll let him/her start to tell the story of what I figured would come home to roost sooner or later. But this bit first--for years municipal curbside recycling programs have been increasingly operating single stream (commingled) collection programs and they have not had a problem finding a market for the tangled mix of paper that most North American recycled pulp & paper mills would rather take a pass on. No problem, Asia, specifically China, wants our waste paper. China has been building paper mills like crazy in the last 10 years. This has worked out well...even though this situation is not part of some well-thought-out plan...most recycling programs don't realize this situation (high demand for recovered waste paper in China) was really just chance, luck, serendipity...stumbled upon. There were no egghead economists planning this out...the whole thing has been "hedge-fund" like -- and we all know how that works out WHEN THE RULES CHANGE!

So I'll let Dead Tree tell the story for now.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sharing is Caring

This blog (on the same server I use) is an interesting read. By an anonymous blogger who wants to keep his day job in the printing or publishing industry.

I thought it would be a comparable parallel universe to the information I post here...especially as I decided a few years to discontinue engaging in the simpleton environmental debates such as recycling is actually a worse choice than using virgin fiber to produce paper.

The one thing I always acknowledge is that paper production is a complicated process, where one shoe does not fit-all. But the idea that the paper industry can be sustainable using timber to produce 100% of product is a dead-end.

And regarding the old saw put forward in this guy's blog post, that recycled fiber should be used specifically in one sector such as containerboard production. Tell that to containerboard and sack mills that have concerns about product integrity. The down-cycle whine is getting pretty old. Yes the recycled fibers become shorter. But there are only so many cardboard boxes all industry sectors gotta suck it up and absorb some of recovered output...including printing & writing, which is taking in about 6-8% right now in North America. It is done. It works. Some mills are doing it. More need to get involved and change the production paradigm...not 100%...but at least more than 6-8% of production.

Chlorine compound bleaching is used to separate lignin and brighten virgin kraft fiber production, and is not comparable to the bleaching (in many cases more benign) used for deinking.

And speaking of parallel universes, I assume according to this blog post, the Martians in Europe know how to separate waste paper so it is usable for paper production...something North Americans would never be able to comprehend.

I told myself I would never engage in these "debates" again. I have to find the 12-step program for this...I keep falling off the wagon.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mechanical Paper – the New Diet

Dismayed as I was a few years ago that the brightness level of office and printing paper was needlessly being ratcheted-up by the major paper producers, there surprisingly is a positive outcome from that move, one that few are taking notice of. When kraft paper producers started the increase to brightness levels in the mid to low 90s (GE scale), the fledgling uncoated mechanical offset paper producers also bumped up their brightness levels to a point that these mechanical papers now approach the comparable appearance of the uncoated kraft printing papers of just a few years ago.

The unfortunate situation is that there has been little-to-no action by the pulp & paper industry to invest in additional deinking capacity for expanded production of recycled content printing & office paper in North America. And the good intentions of certified virgin fiber does not lessen the demand for timber for paper. However, environmentally speaking, there is good news in that the mechanical pulp process does utilize less wood input (close to half the amount) compared to kraft pulp. Additionally, the bleaching process for virgin mechanical pulp also lends itself to being free of chlorine compound use.

So if I have anything to point to as far as environmentally significant progress in the printing & writing sector of the paper industry in the past 5 years, it would have to be the increased production and marketing of mechanical pulp papers that can replace the use of kraft pulp paper for offset printing, book production, office paper and business forms.

20 years ago, even the infrequent paper consumer was aware of the term “acid-free paper”. The disparaging talk at the time by those in the paper industry was that every grandma with her own lousy poetry book wanted it printed on archival paper—as if their tome would be sought after for eternity. I wish I had a nickel for everyone who inquired about acid-free paper at the time. Many even confused acid-free as some environmental benefit.

There are solid benefits to archival acid-free papers. Being able to view the Declaration of Independence is a good example. National Geographic magazine is famously printed on acid-free archival paper. Recently, I had the clichéd experience of waiting at the doctor’s office perusing a National Geographic from 1971 about the Apollo 15 lunar expedition (We took a motor-vehicle AND golf clubs to the moon! —Way to go USA!). Amazingly that magazine looked as good as the day it was printed. It reminded me that my mother has been saving for me, every National Geographic since the mid-1960’s, neatly stored by year in leather-like slipcases. I’ll take them someday if I ever happen to move into a home the size of the Astrodome. Meanwhile, I’d prefer if National Geo would have continued producing the CD-ROM of all issues back to 1888…it was much more portable and didn’t involve paper.

My point being that one day we will realize that not everything needs to be archival on paper. Certainly the younger set that can text message with one hand understands that. So kraft pulp’s days may be numbered…or at least limited.

In the meantime, paper based communications such as utility bills, mundane office memos…and certainly junk mail…could all be produced on the mechanical pulp papers. There is no reason this material needs to be produced on kraft pulp printing & office paper.

Again, the environmental benefit is the higher yield of paper production to timber input and the chlorine free process. But as I wrote about last year, the environmental benefit can only be claimed if mechanical pulp paper is used in place of kraft pulp paper. Some mechanical pulp paper, such as newsprint or coated mechanical for newsweekly magazines have always used mechanical pulp, therefore no environmental impact sea-change exists for that use.

Abitibi-Bowater is taking the lead on production of this type of paper with its Ecopaque brand printing papers. Xerox branded Hi-Yield Business Paper is an office paper utilizing mechanical pulp. And for the double whammy—mills like Manistique Papers (uncoated paper ) and Myllykoski/Madison (coated paper) produce mechanical pulp papers with recycled fiber.

So I think it is time that mechanical process paper (again - only when being used to replace existing kraft process paper) should take its place alongside recycled content and certified virgin fiber in the dialog about sustainable paper production and use.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Your Attention Please

My favorite part of the flight: You get on an airplane and the flight attendant wants your undivided attention and then proceeds to announce "...and for the benefit of those passengers who have not been in an automobile since 1966, we will now demonstrate how to buckle and release a seatbeat".

I'm with all those who say we have really dumbed-down the entire world.

So why on earth do we have to--in 2007--have a press release from a major envelope manufacturer touting that they are going to print "please recycle" on customers envelopes, like they are contributing some major breakthrough on human planetary behavior?

The fact is that the envelope company doing this actually produces some very real environmentally beneficial envelopes, using recycled paper or sustainable certified virgin paper, alternative energy offsets or other programs...truthfully not for all (or even the majority) of the envelopes they produce, but enough that they have created a market that can readily provide environmentally beneficial envelopes to customers who want them...and that customer base is growing.

My point is that the please recycle stuff is a distraction from the real efforts that are needed to improve the environmental impact of paper production and consumption. It certainly pales in comparison to actually using recycled paper to produce the envelopes.

The "please recycle" campaign is sponsored by The Envelope Manufacturers Association, The Direct Market Association and The Magazine Publishers of America.

Well, OK --Clap, Clap, Clap, -- Good show! Something is being done!

Now check your guns at the door, put that baby in a car seat, don't smoke in the's 2007 for crying out loud!

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.