7th Research Forum on Recycling: Needs, Issues, Realities
November 1, 2004 By Pulp & Paper Canada
After 36 months since the last recycling forum, delegates came to Quebec City eager to listen, learn and share their experiences during the last three years. With conservative optimism, participants had the opportunity to recount the past, examine…
After 36 months since the last recycling forum, delegates came to Quebec City eager to listen, learn and share their experiences during the last three years. With conservative optimism, participants had the opportunity to recount the past, examine the present and dream for the future.
A sea of proud hands shot into the air in response to his question. Conference chairman Chad Bennington smiled down from his podium to the familiar faces and asked how many delegates had been to every single recycling research forum that had been held, a grand total of seven. Many were pleased to say they had.
“There have been more than 15 years of recycling in Canada,” Bennington confirmed. “Our goal here is to provide a forum linking research in paper recycling to industrial practice. We’re bringing the researchers and the recyclers together”.
It was a sentiment and an objective shared by many, 98 to be exact. Participants from 11 countries made their way to Quebec City in September to participate in the forum, to exchange ideas, offer information, to share concerns and questions.
The conference opened with a plenary speech given by recycling veteran Mahendra Doshi entitled “Paper Recycling, Past, Present and Future.” Designed to sensitize delegates to the somewhat fragile nature of the industry, Doshi spoke frankly about the state of recycling in Canada, educating listeners about where we are now and what we can anticipate in terms of where we might end up. He recalled the vigor with which the recycling industry was approached in the early 90’s, how there was an identifiable need for research and how researchers saw a real need for published work. In order to highlight where the industry has focused its intent over the past decade, he provided a detailed list of the more memorable presentations given at previous research recycling forums, all of which were in turn remembered favourably by this year’s delegates. Participants in the audience had completed many of the works singled out for praise by Doshi.
Doshi also rendered a detailed account of where he feels the industry is heading by outlining several major points of future focus. He listed biorefining first. “It’s similar in concept to the petroleum refining industry, except that local, renewable biomass material are the feedback rather than crude oil.” Nanotechnology, a term heard frequently during the forum, came second on his list. “It’s the precise manipulation of individual atoms and molecules to build things,” he described. Doshi identified recovered paper control as yet another topic destined to be a centre of focus in the future. He further broke this point down by calling attention to the respective interests of the mill and supplier side. He also emphasized the need to focus on online monitoring. “We need to do more,” he said. “How can we measure contaminants and stickies online?”
Doshi concluded his talk on a somewhat minatory note, informing delegates of the veritable threat China poses to the paper industry. “Between 2004-2005, 32 new paper machines will start up in China,” he confirmed. “During the same time period, 32 paper machines will shut down in North America.”
Despite adhering to a seasoned format of technical presentations and a mill tour, the 2004 recycling forum experienced changes. Previously held every two years, the 2004 forum was held after a three-year lapse and will now stick with this format. The reason for the move, according to program chairman Gilles Dorris, was twofold. “It was a big decision to go down to three years. We could have continued to hold it every two years, but we probably would have only drawn 60 or so people. We wanted a nice round number,” he explained. “We also had to join forces with TAPPI this year in order to draw enough papers,” he added.
Regardless of the constitutive nature of recycling, according to Chad Bennington, the industry is maturing and is therefore not able to elicit the attention and funding it once did. The reasons for this are multifarious, however, Bennington boiled it down to a matter of practicality in terms of where industry practitioners can feasibly allocate their time, money and attention in the most propitious way. “People feel they already know a lot about recycling and start to direct their focus elsewhere,” he said.
Both Dorris and Bennington referred to the current situation with university research and underlined the fact that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract young blood to the industry. However, as Bennington articulated, there are professors who continue to nurture an interest in recycling and pursue their work with a constantly renewed vitality. The open panel also provided an opportunity for recent graduates, or those working towards a PhD in the field, to communicate their experiences and the positive outcomes of choosing such a path.
Although the reality of the industry is burdened by challenges, the outlook was altogether positive. Bennington stressed the importance of collaboration between the various facets of the recycling operation to highlight its necessity in establishing a collusive, cohesive industry. “What you do in one area of the mill will affect another, so if you’re an expert in one area, you need to understand the others.” He confirmed that most people involved in the industry tend to be receptive to learning about and gaining an understanding of areas in recycling they do not specialize in. Dorris agreed, if the concept of focus is presented in a way that it can be easily understood. “People are receptive, but it’s difficult to be an expert in all areas,” he said. “Some people are really good in mills, others in research. It depends on how easy the concept is. But, what a research forum does is trigger ideas.”
As Bennington highlighted, the goal is to now be able to anticipate the needs of the industry and to meet those requisites head on. “We’re lucky, because in this industry, people are extremely careful when it comes to recycling, and they’re willing to make changes. But they’re asking for low-capital solutions. We have to focus on cost-reduction, on simplification, on gaining a better control of the process,” he said. Dorris also pointed out the biggest innovations previously witnessed in the recycling forums have centered on low-capital solutions. “It’s basically been a realization, an understanding of how something works, and that’s why we’ve been so successful with our conferences,” he said.
Making it work
Both Bennington and Dorris were pleased to say a significant amount of mill implementation has been a direct result of the conferences. Both credit this phenomenon with the conference’s continued ability to attract delegates. “There have been concrete examples of mill implementation,” they attested.
Conference committee member Daniel Haynes of Eka Chemicals felt the forum had a lot to offer its participants and conveyed his deep-rooted appreciation for the implicit purpose of such gatherings. “These types of forums help to build a real community,” he said. “There are people here I don’t get to see otherwise. It’s these forums that give us a chance to see the research side and the mill side stand up and mix against each other. Often what happens is that we see research being presented here, which in turn influences the work of other researchers and then the industry takes it and applies that research. (Several delegates highlighted the establishment of ERIC as a universal measurement as a pivotal success case of implementation). “It’s true that 40% of the attendees are from mills and that we can’t follow these guys home next week to see if they apply what we’ve learned here, but we know they do. And in my case, it’s often when I look at other people’s work that I say, ‘oh, that’s what might be happening’.”
Haynes was also impressed with the calibre and quality of presentations and representation from the various industry sectors. “The people to whom the industry matters most are here listening,” he confirmed.
Indeed it did and does matter to the forum’s partici
pants. It may be the government’s pennies have been directed elsewhere, that university level research is largely focusing on other areas. But as Chad Bennington pointed out with a certain degree of charisma and pride, “there is innovation on the horizon and there are still issues that need to be solved. We do need to get more people to come to these forums, to get information flowing, to push us forward. Recycling is the motherhood; it’s sustaining. The technology transfer itself is a process, but by presenting your research in these forums, by presenting it to potential users, you could see someone say, ‘hey, I can make that work.” And they do.
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