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Partnership puts energy into paper recycling.

In 1990, only a small portion of the mixed waste paper produced in the U.S. was recovered for recycling. Most of the rest went to landsfills.

But Ashley County, Arkansas, and the Georgia-Pacific Corporation think they have a better use of this material.

In a few months, the two partners will kick-off a countywide pilot programs that will convert mixed paper into pellets for use as a fuel supplement in industrial coal-fired boilers.

The program could be a model for other small and rural communities seeking to save landfill space and find uses for low-quality waste paper.

Ashley County is a rural jurisdiction of 24,000 residents in southern Arkansas. The county now send all of its 500 cubic yards of waste per week to a single landfill. Crossett, the county's largest city (pop. 6,300), generates 80 percent of the county's waste. Crossette also is the site of a Georgia-Pacific pulp and paper manufacturing facility.

Ashley County soon will begin construction of a "rural recovery facility" that will handle traditional source-separation recycling chores and process up to 100 tons per day of discarded paper into fuel pellets. By densifying the waste paper into pellet form, the paper takes on physical characteristics similiar to conventional solid fuels, and thus can be easily handled, fed, and combusted in typical boilers.

For its part, Georgia-Pacific will contribute waste paper from its nearby paper manufacturing plant to the recovery facility as feedstock, and will buy back all pelletized paper for use in its own boilers.

The program will enable Ashley County to reduce the amount of waste it sends to landfill by approximately 65 percent, thus doubling landfill life.

The Mixed Paper Problem

Mixed waste paper is a steadily-growing component of the nation's municipal solid waste stream. It consists of magazines, catalogs, cereal boxes, newspaper inserts, scrap paper, brochures, telephone books, advertising mail components and other low and/or mixed grades of paper. Some of this paper is collected and recycled, usually through office programs, but most of it is simply thrown out with the household trash.

Because of its heterogeneous makeup, low fiber quality, and contamination from glues, coatings, food, wax, and other impurities, mixed waste paper is expensive to process for recycling and not well suited to most recycling applications. Recycling markets for mixed waste paper are weak today, and look bleak for the future.

At 73 million tons, paper and paperboard products are the largest component of municipal solid waste, accounting for 37.5 percent of all discards in 1990. After recycling, about 50 million tons of that paper required disposal, according to a Franklin Associates study.

Paper recycling will increase in the future, but so too will paper and paperboard production. The result: over the next two decades, paper recycling will help the U.S. run hard to stay in place. The Franklin study estimates that in the year 2000, after recycling, some 50 million tons of paper, the same amount as today, still will require disposal through landfilling or combustion. Much of that paper will be mixed waste paper.

Converting some of that paper into fuel could conserve millions of cubic yards of landfill space and save billions of dollars in tipping fees annually.

Paper As Fuel

Waste paper is suitable fuel supplement for many existing industrial boilers, according to studies done by the Washington state energy office. While high boiler retrofit costs make waste paper unsuitable as a supplemental fuel for gas or oil boilers, paper can be used successfully by cement kilns, Dutch ovens, and coal-fired plants. Waste paper compares favorably to coal in terms of heating value (8,000-9,000 Btu per pound), moisture content, and ash residue.

Paper burns cleaner than coal, emitting less carbon, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, and with fewer heavy metal problems in emissions or ash residues. Air quality tests also show that paper fuels result in lower air pollutant levels than mass-burn or densified refuse-derived fuels. An added benefit to paper combustion is the conservation of fossil fuel resources.

It costs $10 per ton to shred paper, and approximately $20 more per ton to process it into densified pellets after shredding. According to Georgia-Pacific, at $30 per ton processed, pelletized paper is cost-competitive with coal even before avoided cost landfill savings are factored in.

Because of its easier handling and feeding characteristics, pelletized paper is more desirable than shredded paper for most boiler applications. It is particularly well suited to facilities with traveling grate spreader or circulating fluidized bed boiler systems.

Potential fuel markets are plentiful for mixed waste paper pellets. At present, utility and industrial boilers in the U.S. burn some 900 million tons of coal annually. There are more than 6,000 coal-fired boilers in the U.S., and only a small investment would be needed to adapt most of these boilers to pelletized paper. Even if all currently landfilled waste paper was used as supplemental fuel in industrial boilers, it would take up only a tiny portion of existing fuel boiler capacity.

Under federal law, pelletized paper is classified as municipal waste, not a fuel. Such paper can make up no more than 30 percent by weight of an industrial boiler's load. These restrictions do not apply to schools, hospitals, and smaller industrial boilers facilities, however.

The Future

Georgia-Pacific and Ashley County think they have found a "win-win" project that saves landfill space, conserves fossil fuels, and converts a problem waste - one that is in oversupply, difficult and costly to recycle, and bound for landfill - into a clean-burning, cost-effective, supplemental energy source.

Local governments considering such projects must consider a variety of factors, such as existing and projected landfill tip fees and landfill life, paper's competitiveness with other fuels currently used by local industries, likely boiler retrofit costs, ownership options for the processing plant, construction and operating costs of the pelletizing facility, revenue (if any) from the sale of paper pellets, transportation costs and the availability of markets for the paper fuel, and additional environmental permits that may be required.

Georgia-Pacific Corp. says it plans to continue to develop the technology and help build the market for pelletized paper fuel in its business locations throughout the U.S.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Fletcher, Jeff
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Oct 5, 1992
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