Saturday, July 19, 2008

Traveling With My Column


I may be wrong ,but I suspect no readers of this column clip my article and send it to their mother like I do. That means most of my columns (as well as Mary Madewell’s editorials and Toni Clem’s film comments and Sam Craft’s photos, etc.) end up in the trash! Thanks to Christians in Action’s recycling program, my husband and I have been able to donate our old newspapers to them. Out of curiosity, I decided to "arm chair" travel with my thrown out column, starting with the outdoor containers behind Christians in Action in downtown Paris.


According to Don Walker, director of Christians in Action(CIA), their first step is to bail the papers and compress them into a cube weighing between 1500 and 2000 pounds. It takes about a month to accumulate enough for a truck load. His operation is relatively small and he works through Vistafibers, "the largest recycler in the Southwest". Vistafibers puts CIA in touch with a broker who sells the paper to an "end user". The bails of paper are loaded onto a semi-truck and sent to an "end user" or mill selected by the broker. It’s curious that their code name in the industry is "end user" since it’s really just the beginning of the recyling process. For the most recent load of newspapers from CIA, the broker was Fiber Horizon, who sold the load to the end user Enviromate, a cellulose mill in Moulton, Alabama, near Huntsville. If this mill were not available for some reason (for example, a hurricane hit), the paper could be sent as far away as Cartones Mill in San Juan del Rio, Mexico! So, now my article has been bailed, loaded onto a truck, traveled to Alabama and unloaded at Enviromate.


The CIA load has the distinction of being "very clean and dry," an honor in the paper recyling business. Because of these characteristics, the CIA paper will be shredded and mixed with boric acid until it is broken up. A fire retardent is blown into the mix and then the mix is bagged for sale. At this point, the recycled paper can travel down several paths. It can be sold to residential contractors and blown into new homes or mobile homes for insulation or I could keep watch over chicken houses! According to Wesley McCains at Enviromate, the Paris News is probably insulating homes within 500 miles of Moulton, Alabama.


If the load had been "wet", it could have been used for organic roofing material, cartons for cereal or toothpaste or the paper on the outside of sheet rock. Or, it could be smashed, heated, compressed, rolled out and wrapped into huge rolls of newsprint and possibly sold to..... The Paris News! My article would be back but with a clean slate. Newsprint can be recycled seven times before it is too small to be strong enough to use. It will fall out of the system at this point and become fuel.


Were The Paris News printed on cardboard, our articles could have had an even more interesting trip -- the slow boat to China. Actually, I don’t know if the boat is slow but China has been a voracious purchaser of used cardboard and it is a cheap product to fill ship containers returning to China. Cardboard is the easiest to recycle as it has the strongest fiber. However, according to Fiber Horizon, there is a shortage of containers available for waste paper products going in China’s direction. Because of the weak dollar, other countries are buying more sophisticated, processed American products, and there are fewer containers available for newspaper and cardboard. Cardboard is reprocessed in China and used to box merchandise coming back to the United States. This Pacific crossing can go on for six times before the fibers in paper and cardboard have been broken down too much to reconstitute.


All this seems pretty complicated and a lot of roads to travel to simply recycle. Because of the demand from China for recycled products, the price for recycled paper products has doubled over the last several years. This may be the reason so many publications are going online. Online editions don’t require much paper at all. But then I can’t clip an article online to send to my computerless mother. So, until the next column, remember to "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.".

2 comments:

Laura Rhea said...

this was absolutely fascinating! I have always wondered about that. thanks for another great article!

Mema said...

Mary, good morning. I am so pleased to read about recycling of the news papers and boxes. I recycle a lot of things I am sure they don't want. But they accept them all. Thank you for the story on recycling. I had often wondered how they were handled.

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