From the start Western Web boasted “We only use recycled paper.”  Now I’m forced to say, “We use the highest recycled content paper available.”  For the first time we’re going to report in 2011 we used some paper that is not even considered “recycled” by California, which requires a 40% post-consumer waste content to qualify.

Don’t blame me.  Blame Ms. Zhang Yin.

Ms. Zhang immigrated to the US with little money, but lots of imagination.  She realized the US had an abundance of recycled paper at cheap prices and stacks of empty shipping containers that came here full of stuff and had nothing to haul home to China.

Recycled paper was there for the taking, she had contacts in China.  Bingo.

Guess who the richest self-made woman on the planet is?  Oprah?  J.K Rowling?  Hah, chump change compared to Ms. Zhang who started Nine Dragons Paper in 2006 and is already worth $3.4 billion. She has dramatically changed the recycled paper market.

The old Hawley Pulp and Paper mill started in 1908 and was still going strong when I visited in 2008.  Western Web purchased almost all our paper from them at the time.  It had been purchased by LA Times, then Smurfitt Recycling before the current employee owners formed an ESOP.  They named the company after the ubiquitous blue herons found everywhere along the Oregon City Falls area of the Willamette River near Portland.

On February 23, 2011 Blue Heron Paper closed.  A sad day for the 175 employees who still had jobs that day.  They worked hard, upgraded the mill many times and produced high quality post-consumer waste newsprint.  They went out of business because they could not find affordable recycled paper.

What?  How can that be?  We all have a blue can full of paper in our offices and homes.  On Tuesdays my street is lined with blue toters with the recycle bug prominently displayed.  We’ve all heard about the environmental benefits of recycling paper; forests preserved, less energy and water used.

All true, in China, where the bulk of our recyclable paper goes.

There are still great recycled paper manufacturers in the US, but almost all are in bankruptcy.  Two out of the four mills we use are in Chapter 7.  Of the two solvent mills, one has dropped their post-consumer recycled content to only 30% while the other is part of a huge paper conglomerate that mostly uses virgin trees to make paper, and money.

Western Web was sending all our waste to our paper mills, but we were leaving nearly a thousand dollars on the table every time we sent a truck to Portland.  We just couldn’t afford it.  Now we send our waste to San Francisco, where it is loaded on ships.

We are still able to get paper that is all recycled.  No trees are logged for the purpose of making any paper we use at Western Web.  That is possible through the use of mill waste, sawdust mostly.  And, if you don’t think that is recycling I pose to you the same question I asked my friend at GreenPeace, “What is your house made of?” However, with the slowdown in construction, there is less mill waste also. Expect recycled content to go down and the price of recycled paper to go up.

Really, you can’t blame Yin, you can’t blame China.  Yin is nothing less than a successful, red-blooded, American capitalist.  And, the benefits of recycling are still real in the global village in which we live.