17 July, 2018
GP to test new recycling process
Sixty years ago, Georgia-Pacific opened its first containerboard plant on the site of a former sawmill in Toledo, a few miles inland from Newport on the Oregon coast.
The operation was based on a radical idea for its time: Rather than chuck the waste wood from sawmilling into a wigwam burner for incineration, it could be ground into wood chips and used to produce containerboard, the heavy brown paper that goes into making cardboard boxes.
Today wood chips are still the main source of fiber for GP's Toledo mill, along with big bales of used cardboard known as OCC, for old corrugated containers. The raw materials come in by truck and rail from all over the West, with a daily average of 2,000 tons of wood chips and 1,300 tons of OCC going to feed the always-hungry production line.
But now the Atlanta-based company thinks it may be able to take advantage of a third source of fiber that nobody else has figured out a good way to access: used paper towels, plates, cups, napkins, takeout cartons and other food-contaminated paper products.
Georgia-Pacific's in-house think tank has developed and patented a new processing technology, dubbed Juno, that the company claims can separate wood fiber from plastics, metals and other materials in the waste stream and sanitize it for use in the pulping process.
"The magic of Juno is the separation of wood fiber from materials that, up until now, you could not get wood fiber out of - especially if it was contaminated with food," said company spokesman C.J. Drake.
The new technology has already been piloted on a small scale at a plant in Savannah, Georgia, with encouraging results: Containerboard made with fiber reclaimed using the Juno process "looks and feels just like what we make from wood chips and OCC," Drake said.
But the real test will come here, at Toledo, where GP plans to build a commercial-scale demonstration project capable of processing 300 tons of waste a day.
"We chose Toledo because we already do a lot of recycling here," Drake explained.
"This mill originated as a recycling facility," he pointed out. "We've been turning the unrecyclable into the reclaimed since 1958."
GP officials aren't providing much information about the specifics of the new technology, but based on the company's patent application, it works something like this:
Mixed commercial waste is loaded into a pressure vessel and mixed with water. The contents are pressurized and heated to 212 degrees or higher while the vessel is rotated and the contents are churned together.
A screening device separates the partially repulped waste paper, which then goes into a pulping machine to make new rolls of containerboard.
The feedstock for the Juno process will arrive at the Toledo plant in the form of 1-ton bales of commercial waste collected from sources such as fast-food restaurants, airports, sports arenas, large office buildings and schools.
While the bales will contain plenty of things that can't be used to make containerboard, such as aluminum cans and plastic cutlery, it will have far fewer contaminants than commingled household waste, making it easier to pull out the good stuff.
"We hope to recover 70 percent and maybe even up to 90 percent of the fiber from all that waste," said Carl Soderquist, chief engineer for the Toledo plant.
Not only that, but the byproduct of the Juno process will consist largely of sanitized metals and plastics, possibly creating a secondary market for Georgia-Pacific.
"There are a lot of other materials - plastics or commodities that have value - that could potentially multiply the value of the whole proposition," Soderquist said.
GP hopes to have the demonstration plant up and running by early 2020. The company won't disclose the budget for the project. Drake said he's not sure how many jobs Juno will create at the Toledo plant, but he expects some increase in employment.
Applying for permits
Georgia-Pacific is in the process of applying for permits for the project from the state Department of Environmental Quality.
According to DEQ officials, GP will need a solid waste material handling facility permit as well as modifications to its existing air and water emissions permits. Brian Fuller, the materials management program manager for the agency's western region, said he doesn't foresee any significant pollution issues or anticipate any problem with granting the modifications.
"I don't see that as being a big barrier," he said.
Assuming Juno performs as advertised, Fuller said, it should pull some fiber out of the waste stream and could also help divert other kinds of waste from the landfill.
"They will have the ability to sort out plastics and metals and send that off to recycling markets as available," he said.
America's ability to export recyclable materials to overseas markets took a big hit at the end of last year when China, formerly the world's largest importer of recyclables, announced tough new standards, saying it would only accept recycled materials with less than 0.5 percent of contaminants.
Brandon Wright, a spokesman for the National Waste & Recycling Association, said his organization welcomes new technologies like Juno, which - if successful - could be a boon to the industry.
"China's ban on recyclables we always thought would spark innovation," he said. "As difficult as it is on our members ... it's also an opportunity for innovation."
If the Toledo demonstration project is successful, Drake said, Georgia-Pacific might also consider another use for Juno - licensing the technology to recyclers looking for a better way to sort materials.
And in the meantime, company officials say they're confident the new technology will benefit their business and the communities where they operate.
"Basically, Juno solves two problems," Drake said.
"One, it gives us a potentially vast, low-cost fiber supply ... and two, it solves the societal problem of reducing waste."
Source: Democrat Herald