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ISRI Survey: Paper Mills Weigh In on Mixed-Waste Recycling

Contamination, odor, and excessive moisture are just a few of the reasons that paper mill fiber buyers cite for rejecting paper stock from mixed waste processing centers. This finding is part of the preliminary results from a survey conducted by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). ISRI polled North American paper mill buyers responsible for sourcing recovered fiber for their paper mills about their thoughts and experiences with materials from mixed waste processing centers; it is the first known study of its kind.

Mixed waste processing centers advise their residential customers that there is no need to separate recyclables from solid waste (including organics) prior to collection, claiming that the valuable recyclables will be successfully separated in a Material Recovery Facility (MRF)-like environment post-collection. While there have been other recent studies about mixed waste processing centers, this is the first known study that exclusively solicited views of recovered paper buyers regarding their opinions and views about the ability to successfully use the recyclables sorted from such “one-bin” programs.

“We gained an incredible amount of learning from the survey participants regarding their experiences and preferences concerning the procurement of recovered fiber for their paper mills,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “In 2014, ISRI issued a policy statement discouraging the use of one-bin collection systems due to anecdotal statements and strong feelings from our member companies regarding the degradation in quality of recyclables recovered from such systems, but it wasn’t until the completion of this survey that we finally gleaned hard data from paper mills about the poor quality and contamination that they are actually experiencing, and the resulting impact on their purchasing and sourcing decisions. It is clear from this study that in communities where mixed-waste processing systems are put in place, the recycling of paper is significantly diminished, both in quality and quantity.”

Some highlights of the survey’s initial results are as follows:

  • 82% of respondents purchase recovered fiber for 1-6 mills, and 49% of respondents purchase material in the range of more than 100,000 tons of recovered fiber per year, but less than 500,000 tons of recovered fiber per year.
  • Of the respondents, 25% purchase “some” material from MRFs, but these mills purchase less than 10% of their required tonnage from mixed waste processing centers.
  • Of those that purchase recovered fiber from mixed waste processing centers, 70% find the quality to be WORSE than most other recovered paper, and 90% of those mill buyers have had to DOWNGRADE or REJECT the paper from the mixed waste processing centers, at a higher rate than recovered paper from “regular” MRFs.
  • 62% of those surveyed feel that ISRI specs should contain a statement as part of the paper specifications that states: “paper recovered from one-bin programs, separated in mixed-waste processing centers, is not fit for use in USA paper mills.”
  • Of the 75% of respondents who do not purchase recovered fiber from mixed waste processing centers, the top 8 reasons given, for NOT purchasing it, were as follows:
    1. Contamination;
    2. Odor;
    3. Low quality;
    4. Exhibit an unacceptably high level of prohibitives and outthrows;
    5. Internal quality standards prevent purchasing;
    6. Too risky;
    7. Excessive moisture; and
    8. Quality will not meet the mills’ customers’ needs.

The survey was conducted confidentially via an online survey to North American paper mill buyers between January 11 and January 31, 2016. An independent, third-party research firm conducted the survey. In order to achieve a high response rate, the survey was limited to fewer than 10 critical questions. All major mill groups using recovered paper in North America were invited to participate in the survey (both members and non-members of ISRI.)

Headquartered in Washington, DC, ISRI represents more than 1,600 companies in 21 chapters nationwide that process, broker and industrially consume scrap commodities, including metals, paper, plastics, glass, rubber, electronics and textiles. The complete Mixed Waste Processing Survey Report is set for release in Spring 2016. To receive a full copy, please contact ISRI.

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