PORT TOWNSEND, Washington (From news reports) -- The Port Townsend Paper Corporation aims to increase its intake of recycled cardboard, while also reducing its consumption of fresh water by close to a million gallons per day.
Both improvements are tied to the planned replacement of the company's Old Corrugated Container pulper, which is 22 years old, scheduled for this fall, but not before the public comment period expires June 28.
Kevin Scott, General Manager of the paper mill just outside of Port Townsend, recently took The Leader on a tour of the facilities, during which he outlined the goals for the replacement pulper.
According to Scott, the new machine should allow the paper mill to go from producing 400 tons of cardboard pulp a day to a maximum average capacity of 800 tons a day, without requiring significant changes to the plant's footprint or its material processing equipment.
"We're currently running on about 40% recycled fiber," Scott said. "This lets us go up to about 60%."
Scott said the ability to use more recycled cardboard will make the mill less dependent on virgin wood fiber, "which improves our environmental stability and our economic viability."
Although America's current tariff war with China has had some trickle-down effects on the paper mill's sales, Scott described it as a double-edged sword.
"We don't export our goods to China, so it doesn't affect us directly," Scott said. "But other companies who do ship to China suddenly find themselves with extra product they need to sell domestically, so that market becomes more crowded for us."
At the same time, while other paper mills have relied on China for their raw materials, Scott noted that relying more on recycled materials means the Port Townsend Paper Corporation isn't facing the same struggles to meet its needs, since it has a steady supply at hand.
Although state law does not require an environmental impact statement for the new machine, it is subject to review under the State Environmental Policy Act, and Scott anticipates the Department of Ecology will conduct a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. June 25 at the Fort Worden Commons.
Another benefit to the new pulper is that it should improve the plant's existing water-saving measures.
Scott estimated the paper mill consumes between 10 to 12 million gallons of water a day, but he pointed out that each gallon is currently recycled and reused at least seven times before it's sent to the treatment plant.
"When the cooling towers are on, like they are this summer, we can get almost eight uses out of each gallon," Scott said. "We've used the cooling towers off and on over the past 10 years. We don't need them every year, but when there's a low snowpack or a dry summer, we do."
Scott expects the paper mill's current consumption of water to be reduced even further with the new pulper, by three-quarters of a million gallons per day.
"Water is our lifeblood," Scott said. "We're very aware of the need to make do with less."
The paper mill has timed the installation of its new pulper to coincide with its annual shutdown, starting this year on Oct. 27 and expected to last more than a week.
"It's better to conduct the installation during cooler weather, but not during November or December, when you're likely to have high winds and other bad weather that could disrupt cranes," Scott said. "Besides, we have to coordinate our construction in accordance with all the other mills on the West Coast, so they're spaced out from each other."
When asked how such needs might affect the renegotiation of the company's water lease with the city of Port Townsend, given that the current lease expires in March of 2020, Scott insisted it was too early to offer any assessment.
"We haven't even started our negotiations yet," Scott said. "That being said, over the past 92 years, we've had a good partnership with the city, so whatever agreement we reach, I'm sure it'll keep working well for everyone."
Although the SEPA environmental checklist submitted by the company stipulated there would be no change in odors, the increase in incoming raw materials is expected to add four trucks a day on Mill Road and state Highways 19 and 20, as well as 44 percent more landfill waste.
In the meantime, Scott cited some statistics he takes pride in, including the $3 million spent on converting the paper mill from reprocessed oil to cleaner-burning natural gas, the $10 million spent on boiler emissions improvements, and the 60% reduction in greenhouse gases from 2006 to 2016 recognized by the Northwest Pulp and Paper Association.