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NORPAC starts new $50M recycling equipment in Longview

LONGVIEW, Wash. (From news reports) -- A Longview-based paper mill opened its newest drum pulper last week as part of its ongoing effort to bring jobs to Cowlitz County and meet a growing market for recycled paper products across Southwest Washington.

The $50 million investment for the new drum pulper added 100 new jobs and will help expand North Pacific Paper Company's ability to make packaging paper from recycled wastepaper, said NORPAC CEO Craig Anneberg. The paper mill now employs 500 people total.

"This new equipment will utilize wastepaper from Washington and Oregon to produce recycled packaging papers," Anneberg said in a news release. "This prevents tons of wastepaper from going to landfills and supports regional economic activity."

Washington Economic Development Finance Authority helped finance the project, Anneberg said.

The finance authority provides businesses in Washington state a conduit financing, he said, which allows them to take out tax-exempt bonds and help them benefit from lower interest bonds than conventional financing.

Ted Sprague, president of Cowlitz County Economic Development Council, said in a news release the new equipment "will underpin high-quality jobs and continue Southwest Washington's record of recycling innovation."

The pulper will increase capacity from 300,000 metric tons to 800,000 metric tons of recycled paper annually, Anneberg said.

A drum pulper is a horizontal tube that works as a filter for contaminants in paper and gently repulps the fibers in paper, Anneberg said in an emailed response.

NORPAC's efforts were partly helped by local lawmakers who helped NORPAC negotiate lower electricity rates, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a news release. Cantwell visited the plant Oct. 19 to show support of the ribbon-cutting on the new equipment.

Cantwell said her goal was to help the paper company easily transition to a new era of recycling, which has become more of a priority recently in an attempt to divert waste from landfills.

"I think it's a lesson for the entire nation," Cantwell said. "You're a community in transition. But NORPAC answered the call. They created a new market, they created a new opportunity, and they created a lot of jobs here and saved a lot of jobs here in Cowlitz County."

NORPAC began producing paper in 1979 and then expanded to include a recycled fiber processing plant in 1991 to meet consumer needs, Anneberg said. Most of its wastepaper is sourced from the Pacific Northwest, and most of the company's customers are along the west coast.

In 2018, China, the main buyer of American recycling products, stopped accepting U.S. imports and caused a disruption to many paper mills that had relied on this market, Anneberg said.

"Paper that was previously recycled offshore was now being sent to landfills, creating a significant solid waste environmental problem and contributing to the generation of greenhouse gases as it decomposed in the landfills," Anneberg said. "NORPAC saw this as an opportunity ... to meet the growing demand for packaging papers and to rise to meet this environmental challenge."

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