Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Friday, January 22, 2010

When corporations leave town

Today's news that the Catalyst's two recycling mills in BC will close is an opportunity to consider the bizarre reality of global marketing -- and the continuing impacts on local communities.

Two decades ago I wrote a newsletter for the Recycling Council of BC that was prompted by a call from Newstech Recycling, as Catalyst was called then. They were ramping up production of recycled newspaper to satisfy growing demand in the US, where we sell most of our newsprint. Their problem was obtaining adequate quantities of recycled newspapers in good enough condition to use in their recycling plants.

Looking into the background of that story I learned that Canada supplied almost 2/3 of the world's newsprint. We were emptying our forests to provide groundwood pulp and paper to countries that didn't have forests.

But the upsurge in demand for recycled paper created serious problems for our industry -- and potentially for our environment.

I calculated that if Canada shifted to just 10% recycled content in all the newspaper we produce to meet that demand, we would have to import staggering quantities of old newspapers (I've forgotten the exact figures) to use as feedstock in our mills.

Furthermore, the amount of toxic ink washed out of the old newspaper to prepare it for recycling would be greater the total tonnage of old newspapers that we throw out ourselves here in Canada. By becoming recyclers of the world's newsprint, we would end up importing far more waste than we avoid.

Any surprise that Catalyst set up a paper recycling mill in Arizona, right next door to the vast "urban forest" in California? It makes much more sense to put the recycling plant where the supply of old newspaper is.

Since the early 1990s when I wrote that newsletter, Canada's share of the global newsprint market has dropped from 62% to 53%, reflecting the rise in recycling. The companies like Catalyst can just shift their assets to where the market exists. But our forests and the communities they supported are left behind to start all over again.

Even with the decline in Canada's share of the market there is still a huge imbalance when a country with 0.5% of the world's population supplies over half of the world's newspaper. This system is going to crumble, piece by piece, one plant at a time.

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