On November 26, ISRI hosted a webinar that reviewed where our economy has been and what we can expect in 2020. The information ISRI Chief Economist Joe Pickard mentioned was very interesting and informative. If you weren’t able to participate, it has been posted to our archive where you can view it at your convenience. From where I sit however, I am optimistic about the future. Over the past year, we’ve seen quite a bit of turmoil in the paper markets, especially after China banned the import of certain grades of scrap paper. But our economy, like the recycling industry, is resilient and we’re starting to see new markets open up. In countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam we’re seeing increased exports headed to those countries and as such we’re finding new outlets for recovered fiber that was once headed to China. ISRI is staying on top of this situation and recently convened a task force to see how we can ensure market access to these and other destinations around the globe remain open. As President of PSI, I sit on the committee and will ensure paper’s point of view is represented in these discussions.
And while many new markets are opening up, we need to be careful for what we wish for. Since these countries are experiencing unprecedented market growth, they are now grappling with how to regulate it. Some of these markets are looking at new licensing schemes, similar to the ones China has had in place for many years. Their overall concern is that bales imported into the country may have excess contamination and as such, are keen to prevent trash and other waste from being imported into the country. ISRI staff has received multiple requests from various countries around the world looking for information on how the industry works. Although ISRI needs to be diligent on behalf of the membership regarding how these different specifications and licensing plans will impact the industry, we as members need to support ISRI’s efforts and respond when we get requests for information.
Since some of our biggest export markets have been closed off, we’re looking at more tonnage being kept here in the U.S., creating an oversupply of some grades. We now have to grapple with how to handle this situation. What role does the industry have to play in ensuring recycling rates don’t drop while at the same time getting our materials into the creation of new products? We need to continue to reach out to manufacturers and support ISRI’s Design for RecyclingTM (DfR) policy which states that products should be made with recycled content whenever possible and should also be constructed to be easily recycled. Both of these concepts go hand-in-hand and there are so many opportunities for us to support DfR. For example, through advancements in manufacturing techniques, brands are working to make their paper cups recyclable in a wider range of markets. And while they are working on it, MANY brands still don’t require their cups to be manufactured with recyclable material or use very small percentages. While there is a complicated decision matrix the brands go through that determines the design of their products, they need to make a more concentrated effort to balance the scale between the recyclability of their product and just as importantly the use of recycled content. We need to continually reach out to these brands and encourage them to increase the amount of recovered fiber in their products.
Another example of PSI and the Paper Division working closely with the industry is our support of a new campaign to encourage the recycling of pizza boxes. There are an estimated 3 billion pizza boxes used each year. They are typically made from corrugated boxes and sometime boxboard boxes. There is a lot of confusion and inconsistencies in the industry and among customers and consumers about their recyclability. PSI and the Paper Division support an industry wide campaign to create a common understanding that pizza boxes are recyclable. AF&PA’s recovered mill sector, which represents 93% of the U.S. OCC consumers, supports the initiative as part of the curbside collection programs. Education and common sense are part of the overall strategy to educate residents to only put the box in the bin/tote and remove all other materials. #justthebox.
Many brands are under enormous public pressure to be more sustainable and to increase the use of recycled content. As recyclers and representatives of the recovered fiber industry, our job is to expose and inform brands of the potential recovered fiber has as a feedstock. However, I do believe that If the public pushes for recycled content, we can get this accomplished. But the push has to be publicly driven to really make it happen. To this end, I’d like to close this column by encouraging you to invite the consumers and mills you work with to come to ISRI’s Annual Convention and Exposition, which is being held this April in Las Vegas. The MRF Committee and others will be meeting and will be covering many of the topics we discussed today. By bringing your colleagues to the Convention you’ll be demonstrating the strength of this industry and what we’re all doing to improve it. I hope to see you there!
Linda Leone, ISRI Paper Division Chair
Leonard Zeid, PSI Chapter President