Even though Washington state's pulp and paper industry has shrunk considerably over the past two decades, several of the state's mills are now making significant new investments in plant and equipment to convert recycled paper into containerboard. The end-use market for recycled containerboard- unlike the declining demand for printing and writing papers- is growing. This containerboard market growth is at least partly the result of increased online shopping and to-your-porch deliveries - a phenomenon some have labeled the 'Amazon Effect.'
Currently, most of the recycled paper feedstock for these mills is provided by over-the-road trucking. The Washington mills' need for growing volumes of recycled paper, as well as their needs for the outbound shipment of paper products, seem likely to exacerbate road congestion problems and truck shipment delays leading to still higher shipping costs. Barging could theoretically reduce recycled paper transportation costs and costs of shipping paper from the mills to the containerboard customers.
In addition to the potential to reduce traffic congestion and transportation costs with barging (versus trucking), significant opportunities for carbon emissions reduction could be achieved. The 'Zero Emissions Barge Feasibility Study' explores the potential of battery barge operations as part of the overall report. The longer routes appear to warrant further study for alternative fuels and hybrid models. While this battery barge study concludes that current battery technology is inadequate for long ocean voyages to and from these mills (e.g., to and from Washington State and Southern California), shorter routes within the Salish Sea warrant detailed engineering for battery electric operations.
“ ‘Recycled Paper Barging to Washington State Mills’ contributed to our understanding of the opportunity to innovate and adapt to a circular economy framework,” says Joshua Berger, Founder & Board Chair Maritime Blue and Governor's Maritime Sector Lead Washington State Department of Commerce. We have gained an understanding of what is possible. We want to continue to build our knowledge and gain a broader point of view with more input from collaborators at a regional level.
Additional information will establish necessary technologies, identify the significant levers available, and call out the economic opportunity."
Roy Nott, a former pulp and paper industry executive who assisted Impact Washington with the mill study, said, "It is gratifying to see our Washington mills make the new investments required to consume recycled paper and produce medium and liner papers. Barging would probably enhance the long-term economic viability of these mills. I am especially happy because these new investments should help the rural communities' economies, with relatively high unemployment, where most of these mills reside."
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