- The Northeast Recycling Council released a list of 17 North American paper mills that have announced an increase in their capacity to process recycled paper. The list includes 15 in the U.S. and two in Mexico.
- This covers new mills that will consume recovered material, such as the Pratt Industries facility under construction in Ohio, as well as existing mills that are adding recycled fiber capacity or converting what they process. Notable examples include Green Bay Packaging in Wisconsin, as well as the former Catalyst Paper mills in Wisconsin and Maine that were recently acquired by Chinese company Nine Dragons.
- Most of the new capacity will primarily handle old corrugated cardboard (OCC). It will be two to three years before much of it comes online, although some of is expected by the end of this year and into 2019.
While much of the recycling industry has been sent into a tailspin following China's recyclable material ban, the dynamics in the fiber sector have been a bit different. Mixed paper was on the initial list of banned materials, though OCC was allowed to continue moving if it met the 0.5% contamination standard.
Domestic fiber stockpiles appeared immediately following China's changes. North American recyclers sought out markets besides China, such as Indonesia, which also initiated a crackdown when an abundance of fiber began turning up on its shores. However, China also implemented tougher regulations on fiber mills within its own country to cut pollution, leading Chinese paper companies to seek capacity elsewhere — hence the uptick in investments from Nine Dragons in North American mills. The fiber trouble within China has provided a shot in the arm for the domestic fiber market and experts anticipate the landscape will continue to improve for at least the next three years.
It's not surprising that most of the new capacity will be OCC, considering the ease of processing and existing capabilities on both the mill and curbside collection sides to handle that material. In addition, the e-commerce boom has led to an abundance of recovered shipping boxes.
Residential mixed paper, which has become particularly challenging for many municipal programs, is also expected to grow significantly. According to NERC, at least six of the 17 listed facilities will consume that grade. NERC also notes that the price of mixed paper follows that of OCC. So as OCC capacity increases, the price for mixed paper should as well.