Duluth paper recycling plant opens

Minnesota State Roundup

Published January 1, 1994  | January 1994 issue

A state-of-the-art $76 million paper recycling plant that may be the answer to shrinking timber stock and landfill space opened Oct. 1 in Duluth.

Superior Recycled Fiber Industries (SRFI) produces de-inked pulp from office waste paper in its prototype plant. The pulp is used to make high-quality printing and writing paper. In addition to meeting the paper industry's increasing demand for high-quality pulp, the plant has generated 30 in-house and nearly 100 spin-off jobs in transportation and support services.

SRFI is the product of a unique partnership between Minnesota Power and five competing paper mills—Lake Superior Paper Industries, Duluth; Blandin Paper Co. of Grand Rapids, Minn.; Potlach Corp., Cloquet, Minn.; Canadian Pacific Forest Products Ltd., Thunder Bay, Ontario; and Consolidated Papers Inc., Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. These mills not only helped design the operation and choose the machinery, but they committed to collectively purchase 70 percent of the pulp output over the next five years. "Now we're working with our customers to develop new products and can position the company to meet future demand for these high-grade recycled paper products," says Anne Lewis, Blandin spokesperson.

Using the most technologically advanced recycling equipment and design available in the world, SRFI processes 300 tons of office waste paper daily that might otherwise end up in landfills. Operating around the clock, yearly output is expected to amount to 90,000 tons of pulp. "It's really not a 'save a tree' issue as much as it is reducing the amount of waste paper that's filling up the nation's landfills," says Gerald Ostroski, president of Synertec, the Minnesota Power subsidiary responsible for building the plant. The plant is designed to handle 6 percent of U.S. office-collected waste paper.

"The goal in designing this plant was to create a process that not only makes de-inked pulp but also provides solutions for common environmental issues," Ostroski says. The plant uses millions of gallons of recycled water each day and hydrogen peroxide to whiten the pulp instead of chlorine bleach, which could produce harmful dioxins.

Plant officials are currently studying plans to recycle the waste residue as well. "Our vision is to completely close the loop on this plant from a residue standpoint and we think we'll accomplish that within the next two years," Ostroski says.

According to Lewis, "The demand for the high grade recycled products isn't where we want it yet, but we're seeing a growing interest and have had a lot of customer inquiries." And she says the production people at Blandin, which produces light-weight coated paper for magazines and catalogs, are very pleased with the quality of the pulp product they now receive from SRFI.

Christine Power