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Paper recycling has long been a quiet component of North America's industrial economy, but recent export statistics have helped cast a spotlight on some recycling activity.
In an economy where goods made in China are streaming into Pacific Ocean ports on the West Coast of the United States, recovered paper has been one of the few materials heading the other way. Some statistics list it as the export item that is filling more containers on the trip back to East Asia than any other product.
In the past two years, paper recyclers have not only had the export market to tap into, but have been able to deal with a relatively healthier and more financially stable paper industry in North America.
The combined factors have helped further solidify a well-established industry that overlaps and interacts with several other industries, most notably the papermaking and solid waste industries.
As the importance of securing scrap paper supplies became evident to forest products companies, many of them have developed their own recycling divisions to ensure that their mills will have access to material.
From another angle, major solid waste companies are aware of the bottom line of making sure collected paper is and, thus, have paid significant attention to their recycling operations.
The majority of the 10 largest paperstock dealers in North America are either recycling divisions of mill companies or recycling divisions of solid waste hauling firms.
The financial backing that comes from being part of a larger corporate base has helped these recycling divisions procure material from the industrial, commercial, office and residential streams.
However, a look at the companies placing 13 through 19 on the list, as well as those who placed just outside the 20 largest, shows that there is still a place in the industry for independent paperstock dealers.
As with other Recycling Today "20 Largest" lists, we received replies from some but not all of the companies we contacted. In some cases, we placed companies on the list based on estimates from industry sources and based on numbers collected two years ago, while in other cases we refrained from doing so.
In an effort to receive more information, we decided to keep actual volume figures confidential. The list that has been created ranks the companies based on processing volume, defined as scrap paper sorted, baled or otherwise handled before being shipped to a broker or consuming mill.
A MATTER OF ACCESS. A look at the operations of the continent's largest paperstock dealers reveals different techniques used to tap into North America's scrap paper stream.
Curbside recycling programs have helped such companies as Waste Management Inc.'s Recycle America Alliance, Allied Waste Industries, Casella Waste Systems and Republic Services become large-volume handlers of the old newspapers (ONP) grade.
Newsprint mill companies with recycling divisions, such as SP Newsprint and Abitibi-Consolidated, have also tapped into the post-consumer ONP stream, either with drop-off centers or by procuring curbside material.
The Paper Retriever program established by Abitibi-Consolidated is the company's attempt to capture post-consumer newspapers and magazines that are disposed of away from home. The small recycling drop-off bins are being placed in schools, churches and other buildings in several major American cities.
The offices, factories and retail locations of North America also remain competitive ground for paperstock dealers to procure material.
The majority of the recyclers on the 20 Largest list actively seek to place containers and balers at the sites of major generators.
On the office side, this can often mean entering the document destruction business, as an increasing number of workplaces seek to keep much of their scrap office paper in locked bins and away from outside eyes.
Paperstock dealers such as Allan Company, Weyerhaeuser Recycling and City Carton Recycling are all active in the document destruction arena. Earlier this year, Weyerhaeuser's Sacramento, Calif., facility joined the Information Protection Solutions of America (IPSA) marketing co-operative. The Sacramento facility has also received NAID (National Association for Information Destruction) AAA certification as a secure facility.
Additionally, City Carton's Document Destruction & Recycling Services (DDRS) subsidiary has been a longtime NAID member, with company Vice President Chris Ockenfels currently serving as NAID's president.
A look at the operations of any of the 20 Largest Paperstock Dealers will show a willingness for company leaders to consider and implement new ways of bringing in scrap materials.
In addition to expanding internally, several companies on the list are growing by acquisition.
Mid America Recycling, based in Des Moines, Iowa, increased the amount of fiber it handles in one large step earlier this year by acquiring the operations of Vista Fibers, formerly based in Dallas. "Vista Fibers is a very fine, well-operated company that will add significant value to our customers and shareholders," Mid America President Brian Meng said at the time of the May purchase.
Weyerhaeuser Recycling has also strengthened its presence in the market in the past two years with the purchase of the former Manchester Recycling of Richmond, Va., in 2004.
Recycle America Alliance also continued to acquire additional operations in 2004 and early 2005, including the purchase of most of the assets of Tri-R Recycling in Denver.
MORE THAN PAPER, Another noteworthy trend among the largest paper-stock dealers is that very few of them deal only in paper. As companies have added methods to reach deeper into the fiber stream, this has often meant providing plastic, metals or other recycling services.
When serving municipal programs, this usually means expanding into the recycling of plastic and aluminum beverage containers and steel food cans.
Although feeding paper mills is the critical reason for its existence, the philosophy of Smurfit-Stone Recycling as stated on its Web site is typical of the need to diversify: "While recovered paper collection makes up a majority of sales, we also manage aluminum cans, glass and plastics."
With healthy metals markets in place for much of the past two years, and demand for recycled plastic showing some sustained strength, 2004 and 2005 have provided a positive setting for paper recyclers to expand into these markets.
At the same time, the global hunger for scrap paper should also keep the companies on the 20 Largest Paperstock Dealers list actively involved in their core market.
LET US KNOW
The reluctance of some companies to provide information has probably led to their omission from this list, meaning we cannot claim 100 percent accuracy. We hope that some of these companies will reconsider their policy. Listing the largest most active companies is a way to gain recognition for what a company and its employees have accomplished. It takes hard work by a lot of people to procure, process and ship out paper grades that meet mill quality standards.
If you work for or own a company that you suspect should be on this list but was not contacted (or did not respond), please let us know, and we will make sure to let our readers know. Editor Brian Taylor can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Recycling Today received replies from a number of other companies that are processing tonnage that puts them near the Top 20. Among these companies poised to reach the 20 Largest list in the future are Northstar Recycling Group, Springfield. Mass.; QRS Inc., Louisville, Ky.; Western Pacific Pulp & Paper, Downey Calif.: and Friedman Recycling Co., Phoenix.