Paper used to be made of reclaimed materials such as linen rags. Rags were the raw materials used by the first paper mill built in the United States in 1690 in Philadelphia. Only in the nineteenth century did paper mills convert to wood-pulping technology. It takes seventeen trees to make a ton of paper. All Sunday newspapers in the United States, for example, require the equivalent of half a million trees every week. When paper is made from waste paper, it not only saves trees but also saves 4,100 kWh of energy per ton (the equivalent of a few months of electricity used by the average home), 7,000 gallons of water, 60 pounds of air-polluting emissions, and three cubic yards of landfill space and the associated tipping fees. The production of recycled paper also requires fewer chemicals and far less bleaching.

The paper output of the world has increased by 30% in the last decade. In 1990 the United States used more than 72 million tons of paper products, but only 25.5% of that (18.4 million tons) is made from recycled paper. This compares with 35% in Western Europe, almost 50% in Japan, and 70% in the Netherlands. There are some 2,000 waste-paper dealers in the United States who collect nearly 20 million tons of waste paper each year. In 1988, 20% of the collected waste paper was exported, mostly to Japan.

The waste-paper market is very volatile. In some locations the mixed office waste or mixed-paper waste (MPW) has no value at all and tipping fees must be paid to have them picked up. Therefore, what pays for collection and processing is not the prices paid for waste paper, but the savings represented by not landfilling them at $70/ton on the East Coast. A ton of old newspapers in California brings $25 to $35 because of the Japanese market demand. In the Northeast an oversupply in 1989 caused the waste-paper price to plummet from $15/ton to about — $10/ton. This oversupply also resulted in increased waste-paper exports to Europe, which in turn caused the collapse of the waste-paper market in Holland, where the value of a kilogram of waste paper dropped from eight cents to one cent.

Waste paper can be classified into "bulk" or "high" grade. The highest-grade papers are manila folders, hard manila cards, and similar computer-related paper products. High-grade waste paper is used as a pulp substitute, whereas bulk grades are used to make paper boards, construction paper, and other recycled paper products. The bulk grade consists of newspapers, corrugated paper, and MPW. MPW consists of unsorted waste from offices, commercial sources, or printing establishments. Heavy black ink used on newspaper reduces its value, however. The value of the paper is also reduced by the presence of other substances that interfere with a single-process conversion into pulp, such as the gum in the binding of telephone directories or the chemical coating of magazines.

The most effective way to create a waste-paper market is to attract a pulp and paper mill to the area. To keep such a plant in operation, however, requires a high-grade waste-paper supply of about 300 tons per day. In addition, facilities are also needed for wastewater treatment.

Newsprint Recycling

A large part of the waste-paper problem has to do with newsprint, which makes up 8% of the total MSW by weight. Some 13 million tons of newsprint are consumed yearly in the United States, 60% imported from Canada.

Connecticut requires the use of 20% recycled paper in the newspapers sold in the state today and 90% by 1998. Suffolk County on Long Island requires 40%. New York State reached a voluntary agreement with its publishers to achieve the 40% goal by the year 2000. Florida applies a ten-cent waste-recovery fee for every ton of virgin newsprint used and grants a ten-cent credit for every ton of recycled newsprint used.

The net effect of such legislation will be an increased and steady demand for waste paper, which is essential for the success of recycling. As the demand for waste paper products rises, paper manufacturers will also increase their capacity to produce recycled paper.

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