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WestRock uses record percentage of recovered fiber

During the 2022 fiscal year, WestRock handled 7.1 million tons of recyclables at its recycling facilities. | Postmodern Studio/Shutterstock

Container and paperboard manufacturer WestRock continues to consume internally a larger and larger portion of the recovered fiber the company handles each year, achieving a high of 79% last year. 

During the 2022 fiscal year, WestRock’s paper mills used about 5.5 million tons of recovered fiber, or about 79% of the total managed by the company, according to its recently published sustainability report. The Sandy Springs, Ga.-based company collected and resold about 1.47 million tons to other manufacturers. 

That percentage used internally is the highest in the company’s history, up from 77% during the 2021 fiscal year. In 2015, as WestRock was first formed by the merger of MeadWestvaco and RockTenn, the percentage consumed internally was 64%. 

WestRock recycles OCC, other post-consumer grades and pre-consumer scrap into corrugated boxes and other paperboard packaging. 

The company had a network of 22 recycling facilities during the fiscal year. Some are MRFs sorting curbside mixed recyclables and others are handling fiber scrap from large businesses. 

Digging deeper into the numbers

During the 2022 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2022, WestRock’s recycling facilities managed a total of 7.1 million tons of recyclables, down 4% from the prior year. At the same time, the company’s total production dropped by 2%. 

Of course, most of the recovered material was fiber – nearly 99% of it – but WestRock did resell about 38,000 tons scrap plastic (down 9% from the prior year), 3,700 tons of aluminum (down 3%) and 61,000 tons of “other non-fiber” recyclables (down 4%) during the 2022 fiscal year. 

Overall, 36% of the fiber flowing into WestRock’s mills last year was recycled and 64% was virgin. The company uses more recycled fiber in corrugated boxes than in its other products. 

Specifically, 38% of the fiber entering corrugated mills was recycled last year. The recycled percentage was 28% for the “consumer mills,” which produce cartons for cereal, pasta, over-the-counter medicines and a host of other products. 

Like other paper product manufacturers, WestRock has experienced a slowdown in demand lately, as higher interest rates have begun to impact consumers’ buying decisions. In response, the company has idled some of its production capacity

Meanwhile, WestRock says recycling is integral to the company‘s sustainability goals and those of its customers. Alpa Sutaria, senior vice president of strategy and sustainability for WestRock, told Resource Recycling earlier this year the company has invested millions of dollars to improve sorting capabilities at its MRFs, allowing them to produce cleaner bales for mills.

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