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Export Regulations Green Fence Improved Quality, Traders Say

By Ken McEntee
China’s Green Fence initiative to clean up imported recyclables last year resulted in necessary changes in the quality of recovered paper being packed in the U.S., according to respondents of an informal web survey conducted by The Paper Stock Report.

Of almost 80 respondents, 79 percent agreed that Green Fence resulted in necessary changes to recovered paper quality.

Although the majority of respondents think there is a mutual understanding between buyers and sellers about what constitutes good paper quality, optional comments on many of the questions suggest continued skepticism about the growing implementation of single-stream systems to collect residential recyclables.

The anonymous survey was unscientific and was conducted to get a general feel of the market. An email sent to traders and users of recovered paper asked recipients to click to a web-based survey site. Responses were limited to one survey per computer IP address.

Along with the question about Green Fence, which was in effect from February to November 2013, recipients were asked to weigh in about single stream Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and their use of the Scrap Paper Specifications published by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.

Sandy Rosen, of Great Lakes Recycling, Roseville, Mich., and president of ISRI’s Paper Stock Chapter, is now assembling a committee to review the current specifications.

Here are the results of the survey:

True or false: China's Green Fence program last year resulted in necessary changes in the quality of recovered fiber being packed in the U.S.

True: 79%
False: 21%


“The quality has gone in the tank when it comes to Grade 7 (Regular Newspaper, Deink Quality) and news along with RMP (Residential Mixed Paper).”

“It definitely cleaned up the fiber going to China. Especially Mixed.”

“The fence decreased my market price I received for my product so at the expense of sounding cliché, they got what they paid for.”

“The corporate single stream systems were run for throughput, not quality, and thus 30% contamination was being sent and China was its own worst enemy allowing it to happen for several years before the crackdown. Now, is single stream still the silver bullet of recycling or will it really be dual stream to control the cross contamination?”

“I don't think the changes necessary have been made.”

“Many suppliers that were shipping overseas tried many locations domestically to place tons of lower quality.”

“Scrap paper that processors knew was staying domestic was not cleaned up - no change.”

“It's only affect in the Upper Midwest was to slow down and stop shipments.”

True or false: In general, there is reasonable agreement between suppliers and U.S. mill buyers relating to what constitutes good quality loads of old corrugated (OCC).

True: 63%
False: 37%


“There are no agreements.”

“There always seems to be a game played by mills and paper suppliers on the quality of material. When supply is tight, mills loosen quality and when the supply is plentiful, the quality will tighten up. This is especially true on moisture complaints and deductions.”

“As a supplier of used corrugated to a mill the only requirement specified was a minimum of 800-pound bales.”

“In most cases suppliers that receive good feedback are willing to attempt to meet specifications.”

“We only buy very specific loads of OCC. New suppliers can not believe how clean of OCC we purchase.”

“Any packer that does not get good communication/feedback from the consuming mill is just waiting for problems and rejections.”

True or false: In general, there is reasonable agreement between suppliers and U.S. mill buyers about what constitutes good quality loads of old newspaper (ONP).

True: 69%
False: 31%


“Single streamers think if it’s baled it’s good.”

True or false: In general, there is reasonable agreement between suppliers and U.S. mill buyers about what constitutes good quality loads of office paper.

True: 72%
False: 18%


“There is plenty of material which is shredded so it can be hidden in the pack of SOP (Sorted Office Paper).”

“When I initially started supplying my SOP to the mill I was directed to their website as a reference as to what was expected.”

True or false: In general, there is reasonable agreement between suppliers and U.S. mill buyers about what constitutes good quality loads of mixed paper.

True: 59%
False: 41%


“Same issue as with ONP. In fact, single stream mix is being sold as ONP in the Southwest thanks to Pratt's not managing its quality system. Then they wonder why the mill had pump and piping wearing out because of glass contamination. ONP from single stream is really mixed paper with high level of cross contamination with trash and plastics.”

“The mixed paper grade has degraded drastically. Controlling newspaper in the stream is a big concern. All mills are not the same and have different tolerances for short fiber.”

“Some loads are much better than others.”

What statements reflect your attitude about the quality of recovered paper from MRFs that process residential collections?

  • MRFs cannot provide a good quality feedstock for mills: 11%
  • Most MRFs cannot provide a quality feedstock for mills, but some do very well: 50%
  • Most MRFs can provide a quality feedstock for mills, but there are some that cannot. 39%
  • The quality of feedstock coming out of MRFs is adequate for use in mills. 0%
  • Comments:

    “With the throughput that is required to be profitable, there is no way a majority of MRFs can run slow enough to provide a quality pack of recovered paper for mills in the U.S. The cleaning systems at most mills cannot clean up the material from a single stream system.”

    “Most don't want the additional cost with the additional logistics in exchange for the scant return on investment. Same problem that plagued this market from day one.”

    “Tough question to answer. Yes, the MRFs can supply quality fiber - they just have to slow their run rates down or expand but that didn't happen until the Green Fence and won’t stay in place if U.S. doesn’t control itself on quality control. It is all about throughput for the big corporate MRFs and not quality since there are buyers who bastardize the system by taking trashy material and paying for it out of fear of supply lines. When a mill buys at 30+% cross contamination that means they only get 70% fiber of which may not be ONP so they get 60% of what they pay for. Ask our friends at Snowflake (Ariz. – Abitibi mill) what that did to them in the long run.”

    “Single stream plants have challenges. New collection systems have eliminated the curb side inspection of material before it is placed in the collection truck.”

    “The bigger the plant, the more tons they want to produce, the more trash there is in the paper bales. They run the machine too fast to achieve good numbers.”

    How do you use PSI-ISRI Paper Stock Specifications in your recovered paper transactions? Mark all that apply.

  • I generally don't use them. 16%
  • They are expected to be strictly adhered as a basis of most sales contracts. 26%
  • They are just a general guideline. 53%

    They are superseded by mills' own specifications in sales contracts. 32%

    Do PSI-ISRI Scrap Paper Specifications currently reflect the realities of the recovered paper available in today's market?

    Yes: 39%
    No: 61%


    “The following grades don't come close: RMP (Residential Mixed Paper No.1), No. 7 and No. 8 news. All other grades meet the ISRI specs.

    “Mostly they do.”

    “They do on all but ONP and Mix as stated above. Single stream ONP is now Mix, not ONP No. 8.”

    “With consistent enforcement by all mills domestic and foreign we can affect the quality of paper packers provide.”


    What comments do you have about fiber quality in today's recovered paper market?


    “The above grades are horrible.”

    “None about quality issues, but a ton about recovery prices.”

    “Twenty years ago it would have all been downgraded.”

    “Feedback and consistency are the key to successful quality programs.”

    “Single stream has degraded paper quality.”

    “There has been a significant drop in quality as the waste haulers have grown in recycling. They have encouraged the co-mingling of products to eliminate the majority of recycling competition. This has created a pack that may be deemed "recyclable" but together a portion ends up in the landfill through the trasher at the pulper. The remaining fiber that's recovered causes a multitude of problems on the paper machine. This has forced mills to pay less to cover these additional costs.”

    “The battle for fiber quality was lost years ago when the paper industry allowed the waste industry to dictate what was being packed and shipped. The mills have had to adjust to what is being packed and they have had to lower their standards in order to receive enough feedstock.”

    “Dishonest sellers are trying to put as much crap in the bale as they can get away with - includes paper mill sludge and plastics that look like paper.”

    What is your business? Choose all that apply. (Total is more than 100 percent because many respondents marked more than one category.)

  • Mill purchasing official: 26.%
  • Mill operations: 11%
  • Recovered paper packer: 42%
  • Recovered paper sales: 16%
  • Recovered paper broker: 42%
  • MRF: 26%
  • Recovered paper exporter: 32%

  • Ken McEntee is editor and publisher of The Paper Stock Report and Paper Recycling Online (, based in Strongsville, Ohio.

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