There are a few bumps in the road that are currently limiting the use of recycled materials in paper.
Three, in particular, stand out:
First is the low recycling rate by the North American “ICI” sector. Industrial, Commercial and Institutional recycling still has much room for improvement. Recent data from the province of Ontario, for example, indicates an 11 percent recycling rate for ICI, meaning that retailers, industry and institutions still send approximately 89 percent of their recyclable materials to the landfill. Some North American jurisdictions are in the process of tackling this issue through legislation and it is obvious that the sector has room for significant progress.
Mixing it up:
In many regions, office paper, cardboard and newspapers are tossed in the recycling bin along with juice boxes, yogurt tubs, glass pickle jars and milk cartons with no separation of the materials. In these single stream systems, the paper often becomes contaminated. This reduces the volume of high quality recycled pulp that is available for paper producers. Instead of going to mills to be made into a high-value recycled paper product, recycled paper is increasingly being shipped offshore as low-grade paper, primarily to east-Asian paper and packaging mills.
Meanwhile, paper manufacturers that continue to use recycled materials are experiencing higher costs for sorting, damage to equipment due to glass fragments and other contaminants in ‘co-mingled’ recycling streams and increased disposal costs for unusable papers.
Separating recyclable materials at source is key to solving this challenge and many countries have implemented this method. Canopy is working with our corporate partners and paper mills to ‘close the loop’ and establish direct recycled fiber agreements that bypass the single-stream challenge altogether.
Which Comes First?:
Finally, there is the “chicken and egg” of demand and supply. If large paper users such as publishers, printers and corporations that generate significant quantities of printed materials have sustainability policies requiring high post-consumer recycled content, printers and paper mills are incentivized to provide it. Although other challenges have precipitated the closer of numerous North American recycled mills in recent years, continued strong customer demand is important to reverse this trend.