If the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency gets its way, the state soon will hold the record for the world’s largest wad of paper.
Armed Wednesday with a cherry picker, measuring tape, giant yardstick and clipboards, a group of surveyors, official witnesses and MPCA officials scooted under and hovered over the massive ball to get exacting measurements for the Guinness World Records judges.
“It’s 9 feet 7 inches tall. It’s 32.8 feet around,” Nathaniel Straka yelled down from the top of the lift. The Three Rivers Park District senior engineer is the certified surveyor hired for the state’s Guinness project. Measurements were sent to London on Friday.
“It’s 426 pounds. Woo hoo!” shouted MPCA staffer Jeanne Giernet. She came up with the idea to create the world’s largest ball of paper to encourage more Minnesotans to recycle. The ball will be on display at the Eco Experience center at the Minnesota State Fair, which starts Aug. 21.
Wastepaper is highly coveted by Minnesota’s 14 paper-product manufacturers. Yet these businesses often can’t source enough locally to meet demand. So they end up buying “post-consumer’’ paper from other states. The MPCA hopes to use the giant ball to raise awareness, change habits and feed more local paper into Minnesota factories.
The size of the megaball represents “what Minnesotans throw away every 30 seconds,” said MPCA spokeswoman Pam McCurdy. “We throw away 1 billion pounds of paper every year. And that’s just in Minnesota. It makes no sense.”
Wayne Gjerde, MPCA recycling market development coordinator, said some of Minnesota’s paper companies truck in wastepaper from as far away as Texas.
“RockTenn in St. Paul uses 1,000 tons of recycled paper a day to make box paper for General Mills and others,” Gjerde said. “Liberty Paper in Becker brings in 500 tons of paper a day. New Page in Duluth brings in about 400 tons a day.”
And there’s Boise Paper in International Falls, Blandin Paper in Grand Rapids, the paper ceiling tile makers at U. S. Gypsum Corp. and 3M Post-it notes, he said.
“They all use post-consumer paper to make new products. Supplying them with as much local wastepaper as possible just makes sense, especially from a transportation standpoint.”
Yet according to the American Forest and Paper Association, the U.S. paper recovery rate dropped slightly in 2013, to 63.5 percent. That’s down from 65.1 percent in 2012. Minnesota’s recovery rates are estimated to be similar. A little effort could net greater results, state officials hope.
The 1 billion pounds of paper Minnesotans dump in landfills each year could “generate about $34 million a year” if sold to 3M, RockTenn and other manufacturers clamoring for post-consumer paper. “That means jobs,” Gjerde said, noting that the state’s total recycling efforts already create 37,000 direct and indirect jobs. “Don’t throw away jobs.”
Liberty Paper spokeswoman Polly Filing said she’s excited about the MPCA campaign. “It certainly is a powerful exhibit that we strongly endorse. It’s a great opportunity to increase public awareness and increase recycling.” And the ball is “so cool. It is definitely going to be a show stopper.’’
Liberty buys tons of unwanted corrugated boxes from grocery stores, retailers, and county curbside collectors every month. The old boxes are trucked to Becker, tossed into a giant blender and become fibrous pulp. Facilities in Becker and Golden Valley then turn that pulp into new corrugated boxes and cartons that get shipped to customers across the country.
“More than 90 percent of what we make comes from recycled paper. So it’s important for us to have that dependable supply of old corrugated for our business,” Filing said.
Some of the paper that ends up in landfills comes from home bathrooms. “People recycle their newspapers and their orange juice cartons, but forget about the toothpaste box and boxes of saline and soap. That never makes it to the recycling bin,” Gjerde said.
Brita Sailer, spokeswoman for the Recycling Association of Minnesota, said school milk containers also rarely get recycled, despite being a staple in all public schools.
“The fact that … very few [schools] recycle those cartons means that tons and tons of high quality paper is being landfilled or burned and in some cases composted. All of which take a highly recyclable material out of the recycling stream,” she said.
To change such habits, the state will ask State Fair visitors to sign a pledge to recycle much more paper.
“We are supplying a [giant] roll of our paper for that effort,” said Bob Carpenter, manager of the 360-worker RockTenn plant in St. Paul. “People will sign the outside of the roll, and pledge to recycle more. If [the state] is successful ... that certainly would help our local plant to be more competitive.”
RockTenn’s St. Paul plant processes more than 1,000 tons of wastepaper a day. It buys tossed paper and boxes from 700 offices, stores and supermarkets in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and sometimes Canada.
Industrywide, prices for wastepaper range from roughly $20 to $100 a ton, depending on the grade. Old corrugated paper fetches the highest prices, while mixed office paper fetches $20 to $40 a ton.
With that kind of pricing, wastepaper “has real value,” Carpenter said.