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Recycling Q&A with Green Bay Packaging

Amy Dubruiel


Green Bay Packaging Inc., headquartered in Green Bay, is a manufacturer of numerous paper products, especially corrugated cardboard packaging. Using all-recycled fiber at their Wisconsin paper mill, they rely on Wisconsin’s robust recycling collection and processing infrastructure to feed production.

Matt Reynders, a buyer responsible for procuring fiber for their paper mill, describes how using recycled content helps Green Bay Packaging succeed and meet its sustainability goals.

What can you tell us about Green Bay Packaging’s history with using post-consumer recycled fiber in its products?

Green Bay Packaging started using old corrugated containers, or OCC, and manifold white ledger, a type of recycled paper, at its paper mill in Morrilton, Arkansas, beginning in the early 1970s. That mill continues to use OCC to manufacture high quality liner and medium containerboard. It used manifold white ledger in its production of “white top” containerboard until 2010, when it ceased manufacturing that product.

In 1991, Green Bay Packaging converted its paper mill in Green Bay to use only recycled fiber in its production, ceasing our onsite wood pulping processes and the emissions that came with them. This was a significant milestone for the company. GBP has increased paper recycling by more than 40% in the past 10 years.

Currently, we are installing new state-of-the-art machinery in Green Bay with an operational date in early 2021. In addition to significantly increasing production and paper quality, whose performance will rival containerboard made from virgin fiber, the new process will continue to exclusively use recycled fiber and will have the capability of using mixed paper in addition to OCC.

What does the mill need to do to use post-consumer recycled fiber instead of virgin fiber?

The paper recycling process optimizes recovery of OCC so it can be made into more boxes; fibers from an old box can be recycled at least seven times. Using recycled fiber requires increased screening, separation and cleaning to isolate fibers and remove contaminants, which is not necessary with virgin fiber. Mills using recycled paper typically have less emissions and energy use since they don’t pulp wood or harvest wood from forests.

The Green Bay mill, which only uses recycled paper for its production, uses a closed process water loop that incorporates water chemistry and does not have the traditional wastewater treatment ponds or direct process water discharge found at mills that use virgin fiber.

Additionally, the supply chains for virgin fiber and recycled fiber are very different. Recycled fiber is somewhat reliant on sources of OCC, which can be tied to macroeconomics and robustness of other supply chains. It can be affected by factors such as how much used cardboard the economy is producing through shipping and packaging, how much cardboard businesses recycle, and how much clean cardboard and paper people put into their recycling bins at home.

Green Bay Packaging promotes its commitment to sustainability. How does using recycled paper from Wisconsin households and businesses fit in with the company’s sustainability goals?

Using paper from the “urban forest” of residential curbside and OCC generated from businesses is a recovery pathway that enhances a circular fiber economy, which saves energy while reducing impact to the environment. Recycling also extends the life of wood fiber, so it is optimized and used numerous times, which benefits our communities and environment.

Green Bay Packaging is a steward of sustainability efforts, including recycling. On average, our containerboard products use more than 60% recycled content, surpassing the industry average of 47% and the material health benchmark, a product chemistry measure, of 35%.

In 2019, 92% of OCC was recovered and recycled in the U.S. Recycling paper saves nearly 90 cubic feet of landfill space for each ton of paper recycled. GBP continues to invest in recycling infrastructure that will allow us to recycle even more paper in future years, which is an opportunity and benefit to Wisconsin households.

How do household recycling practices affect the manufacturing of new products? Are there any takeaway messages you would like to share with readers?

Recycle, recycle, recycle! The primary takeaway message is that households and consumers have purchasing power and can choose recyclable and sustainably produced products. They can demand local recycling programs maintain or expand collection.

There is a broad array of products and materials that are recyclable, either curbside or otherwise, and every piece people recycle is a piece that stays out of the landfill and waste streams. We encourage readers to think about this the next time they add something to their shopping cart or garbage bin.

Household recycling practices, and conscientious consumers, align with environmentally friendly products made from recycled content, like corrugated packaging. There is a preference for sustainable products in the marketplace, which has beneficial effect of providing a greater supply of materials from which to recover fibers for reuse and recycling into new products.

We see these trends reflected in the demand from our customers for products. Our secondary fiber procurement team is always cognizant of how well Green Bay Packaging’s boxes will pulp and how hard certain end-product characteristics — particularly wet-strength, wax and foil-coated OCC — will affect our equipment.

Trends and behaviors of household consumers influence the supply chain, and we work to optimize recyclability and recoverability.

Where do you see fiber recycling in Wisconsin going in the future?

There are promising recovered paper capacity increases coming to Wisconsin. Green Bay Packaging’s new recycling machinery that will use OCC and mixed paper is well on its way. Other mills are starting to use more recycled paper. This will surely increase the opportunity for recycling paper in Wisconsin and should encourage healthy supply chains.

Because of paper product innovation and e-commerce, we continue to see an increase in renewable and sustainable products, especially fiber-based packaging, in our recycling bins. The benefits to both the economy and the environment are compelling and a testament to consumers’ commitment and preferences.

Amy Dubruiel is a senior waste management specialist in the DNR’s Waste and Materials Management Program.