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Full recovery: mixed C&D recyclers must weigh how to best pull the OCC from their complicated stream of materials.

Operators of mixed O&D recycling plants see a lot of different materials mixed into what comes into their facilities, with some materials being more visible than others.

Among the highly visible items are large cardboard boxes, also called OCC in reference to the grade assigned to this material by the paper recycling industry. (The OCC stands for old corrugated containers.)

The OCC paper grade is a well-established one among scrap paper traders and mill buyers, providing one good reason for C&D recyclers to recover this material from the unsorted stream that flows into their plants.


The potential value of OCC provides one reason for C&D recyclers to keep an eye out for the grade, and the bulky nature of the old boxes provides another. Mixed C&D recycler Ray Kvedaras of Cooper Tank Transfer, Brooklyn, N.Y., notes that on an infeed conveyor covering mixed materials, "A corrugated sheet will disguise other material beneath."

Thus, the longer that a folded piece of OCC moves along the sorting line, the greater the chances it is covering up a piece of metal or a brick that should also be separated from the stream early in the process. (Or a particularly heavy or messy object that should be picked off before it encounters automatic Screening devices.)

Additionally, an oversized piece of OCC may have dimensions that make it unsuitable for some of the automated screens that it will encounter later on in the sorting process.

Beyond these operational considerations, removing the material also boosts a plant's overall recovery rate and either increases revenue or, at the very least, avoids additional landfill costs.

Kvedaras says studies of his material stream have found that OCC and other types of paper account for 1.5 percent by weight of what enters his facility.

Formerly, his employees sorted OCC into one bunker and other types of paper in a separate one, but now all paper is directed into one bunker. He says Cooper Tank Transfer fills that bunker each day, "and we ship out one load per day--we use a live floor to fill one trailer [each] day."

The mixed paper is sent to a paper recycling plant, where automated equipment is used to sort the paper by marketable grades. "We'll take a hit on the price going out," Kvedaras acknowledges, but he notes that at his confined one-acre property, the method helps by reducing storage needs and increasing throughput.

Tom Roberts, a co-owner of the Atlas-Lox Rd. mixed C&D facility in Parkland, Fla., says a manual positive sort for OCC remains a key part of the process there.

Roberts says large pieces of OCC are recovered both on the tipping floor and at sorting stations along the conveyor line. Additionally, a punch-plate trommel screen also helps clean up OCC, other paper and wood that passes through it.

"We place OCC that we have pulled into a covered storage area where we bale it," says Roberts. He says the company will stockpile the paper and offer it to the market through a broker when pricing is strong.

The question C&D recyclers face is whether the return on investment can be sufficient to justify increased expenses, attention and space when preparing their recycled paper for the end markets.


The market for OCC is indeed well established, but that does not mean it is always lucrative.

Within the secondary commodities industry, OCC has a reputation as a volatile grade in terms of pricing, with some instances of peak pricing followed closely by rapid plunges.

This decade, North America enjoys a position as the biggest exporter and China the biggest importer of OCC, a trend that is likely to continue for the next five years, according to one paper industry consulting firm.

Bill Moore and Peter Engel of Moore & Associates, Atlanta, presented a workshop entitled "OCC Close Up: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Grade," in the summer of 2005 at the Paper Recycling Conference in Atlanta.

As the largest recovered paper grade--accounting for almost half of the tonnage in the world market--OCC received special attention during the post-conference workshop at the event, which is presented each year by the Recycling Today Media Group, publishers of Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine.

U.S. exports of OCC have been steadily increasing for 10 years, according to Moore. Today, nearly 48 percent of U.S. OCC exports go to China, a trend that has been driving the market for the past few years.

Asia is also increasing capacity for recycling all grades of paper, while North America is losing capacity, according to figures provided by Moore. A decline of capacity for old newspapers in North America occurs in part because per capita newspaper readership shrinking. The drop in OCC recycling capacity is because of a decrease in manufacturing in the United States. "We're not making the goods that need to be packaged," Moore said.

Increasing energy costs were among the variables discussed that could put downward pressure on OCC pricing in the near future. Moore acknowledged that more variables existed that could bring prices down, while few would put upward pressure on price.

Such ups and downs are typical of the OCC market, according to Moore, who in an article for Recycling Today magazine in 2003 wrote, "A line graph of OCC pricing for the past decade reveals the volatile nature of the commodity. Spikes and dips--sometimes sudden--lend an Alpine appearance to the chart."

During good times, OCC can rise to $120 per ton or more in value, but the market can head south in a hurry on its way to $50 per ton or less.

C&D recyclers considering investing in upgrades to improve the way they harvest OCC must calculate the possible returns either based on an average or by running cash flow projections for a number of different pricing scenarios.

No matter what the market conditions, mills pay attention to the cleanliness and the quality of material. During slower markets in particular, mills will back away from working with shippers who send them materials with greater amounts of dirt and contamination.

The overall effects of this quality chain works its way from mills through the paper recycling and paper stock dealer chain and down to their customer base. Paper recyclers who have received downgrades because they sent contaminated material to a mill will likewise become wary of accepting material from sources such as mixed C&D plants that they perceive to be providing dirtier, dustier paper.


Equipment to separate OCC from smaller items has been proven in the field for years, but in paperstock plants and municipal material recovery facilities much more so than in mixed C&D applications.

A recycling plant that handles paper grades only or a mixture of paper and beverage containers often puts an automated OCC screen toward the front of its sorting and separating line.

Such plants are often configured to separate OCC from the other paper grades, often as the "overs" fraction of an automated screening process.

But modifying OCC separation methods for mixed C&D applications can be challenging. "We can offer separation of light material from heavy using air, but you're getting not only cardboard but also materials like insulation and plastic film," notes Steve Miller, president of Bulk Handling Systems Inc., Eugene, Ore.

Using a disc screen designed for paper recycling in a C&D environment "would be a disaster," adds Miller, noting that the C&D material is too heavy and damaging for such equipment.

Additionally, cardboard boxes are not the only large items heading into mixed C&D plants. "A system designed on the size or rigidity of OCC versus other papers would not work in this application because in mixed C&D there are other things that are similarly rigid--or more rigid--and of similar size," says Miller. "So you'll also get wallboard pieces, scrap wood, even mattresses," he remarks.

Mixed C&D plants are deploying a number of different types of screens to separate by size and weight. (See "On Screen" in the Jan./Feb. 2006 issue of Construction & Demolition Recycling or at

But even mixed C&D recyclers who invest in automation are continuing to rely on human eyes and hands if they wish to produce a clean grade of OCC. Larger items such as OCC boxes continue to be sorted and separated by people at picking stations along the conveyor belt or by a grapple operator on the tipping floor.

To what extent mandates such as the one in Massachusetts--which lists OCC as one of the materials that can longer be landfilled--will further boost automation remains a question. Mixed C&D plant operators must continue to calculate whether investing to maximize OCC recovery can pay off.

As things stand, pulling out the large and obvious pieces of OCC makes sense for a number of reasons, and it ultimately appeals to the sensibilities of recyclers who want to maximize their recycling rate and minimize the amount of what they landfill.

"Sometimes, to what extent something is marketable is not the objective in our business," says Kvedaras. "We as recyclers look for maximum recovery, and we're still always looking to reduce the cost of dumping what we take in as garbage."

The author is editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be contacted at
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Title Annotation:OCC RECOVERY REPORT; old corrugated containers
Author:Taylor, Brian
Publication:Construction & Demolition Recycling
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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