Hitting the Mark with Recycled Paper
This year during Paper Week in Chicago—now called Paper 2011—I escaped from the hotel and the meetings for a field trip. I traveled to the village of Alsip, about 15 miles south of Chicago. In Alsip, you feel like you’re still in the city.
I was invited to visit the FutureMark paper mill, which was unlike many others I’ve visited near the forests of Louisiana or Wisconsin or Quebec. This one is in an urban forest, and makes high-quality recycled paper.
I met with Steve Smith, VP of operations, who explained that FutureMark is a spin off from Myllykoski. The mill is now owned by The Watermill Group (a private equity company). FutureMark is the only company in North America capable manufacturing up to 100 percent recycled coated mechanical printing paper. It recovers and recycles magazines, catalogs, newspapers and printers’ waste.
In 2010, the company recycled more than 117,000 tons of paper and reached an all-time high utilization rate for recovered paper reuse of 96 percent. More than 80 percent of this goes into the paper, and the balance is short fibers, inks and coatings that are reused as an alternative to agricultural lime in a product called FutureMark High-Calcium Paper Lime.
Recovered magazines, catalogs and similar papers make up about 75 percent of the furnish, while old newspapers (ONP) are 10 to 20 percent. The mix also includes some higher brightness printers’ waste and up to 7 to 8 percent virgin Kraft softwood to control sheet strength.
One of the biggest challenges facing the mill is securing raw material in light of increasing exports of recovered fiber to China. In 2010, the United States shipped more than 10 million tons of waste paper to China, representing more than 60 percent of recovered fiber exports.
One solution is closed-loop recycling, which FutureMark is doing, for example, with a major airline that sends its expired in-flight magazines for recycling at the mill. This gives the airline a productive outlet for its old magazines, while assuring FutureMark a supply of good fiber. FutureMark also has been approached by several national retailers and Midwest printers about closed-loop recycling as a way to enhance their corporate CSR programs.
It’s good to be green, but I wanted to know how the market was accepting the paper. Steve told me the mill was running near capacity, and took only 10 days of market downtime during the recession years of 2008-2010. This is better than most.
The company achieved this by offering customers a recycled product that is competitive with virgin in quality and price. Steve added that FutureMark picked up 50 significant new accounts in 2010, including Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Office Max, Whole Foods Market and the in-flight magazine for American Eagle.
Recycled papers often cost more than virgin, but FutureMark is able to stay competitive because of its world-class equipment that is optimized and efficient, having a nearby source of raw materials, and being located in the middle of one of America’s largest print markets.
Making high-quality paper from recycled fiber is not easy, or others would be doing it, too. Myllykoski had invested more than $200 million in state-of-the-art equipment, and the FutureMark team has spent five years optimizing the process and paper quality. Steve gives the credit to the “team coming together,” and others give a lot of credit to Steve, too.
According to another contact at FutureMark, “We only semi-jokingly refer to him as the ‘resident paper magician.’ He has done absolute wonders for this plant.”