The pulper at Total Fiber Recovery in Chesapeake, Va. | Courtesy of Bulk Handling Systems

A mixed paper and OCC pulping operation is nearing completion on the Eastern Seaboard and plans to start producing unbleached recycled pulp in early January, a company owner said. 

The $80 million Total Fiber Recovery plant in Chesapeake, Va., near the Port of Norfolk, will purchase mixed paper and OCC bales and recycle them into dried unbleached recycled pulp (URP) for export. The plant will process roughly 700 tons per day, said Steve Miller, CEO of Bulk Handling Systems, the parent company for Total Fiber Recovery. 

“We’re obviously very excited about it. We believe that we’ll be an important outlet for companies and a very consistent outlet of both mixed paper and OCC in that region,” Miller said. 

The Total Fiber Recovery of Chesapeake (TFRC) project was first announced in 2020 and broke ground in July 2022. TFRC is a joint venture between BHS and Cellmark, a global company that buys and sells recycled fibers, plastics and metals. Cellmark will source feedstock for the plant and sell the URP.

The pulping equipment will be supplied by Lebanon, Ohio-based Kadant Black Clawson, which specializes in paper pulping systems, Miller said. The system will be designed to handle the contamination that comes with post-consumer mixed-paper streams, he said. 

“We’ve designed and built this for a specific purpose, and that is to produce unbleached recycled pulp and to do it at significant quantities and to be sure that we’re providing a high-quality pulp product to our customers,” Miller said in a recent interview. 

The 24/7 operation will employ about 65 staff members, he said. 

Only a slight slippage in schedule

The project is more or less on time. At groundbreaking, officials estimated the plant would open in the fourth quarter of 2023. Miller said he now expects the first URP to roll off the line during the first or second week of January 2024. 

TFRC is just beginning the process of taking in bales, and buying will increase significantly in February, he said. 

Miller said URP, which will total roughly 200,000 metric tons per year, will be shipped to factories around the world for use in recycled liner, recycled medium or recycled packaging. That weight would be equivalent to nearly half of all recycled pulp exported by the entire country in 2022. According to Census Bureau trade statistics, nearly 482,000 metric tons of recycled pulp were exported from the U.S. last year. Over 86% of that went to China. From January to August of 2023, nearly 153,000 metric tons were exported, 87% of those going to China. 

TFRC has also been in contact with domestic markets, but “we’ve not finalized that or anything with a domestic user at this point,” Miller said. 

China’s National Sword campaign restricted shipments of scrap paper and corrugated containers to the country but did not limit imports of recycled pulp, which is considered a product, not “waste.” 

Even after the policy began going into effect in 2017-18, China “is still far and away the largest user of recycled fiber,” Miller said. 

More stories about fiber