As he walked through the paper production building at the Port Townsend Paper Company, General Manager Kevin Scott conducted his hands in time with the whirring of machinery.
“It’s like an orchestra,” he said.
And like clockwork, as a giant roll of brown paper was released from the winder, two mill workers stepped up to cut off the ragged edges. Another operated a radio-controlled crane that slowly lifted the roll into the air. From there, it would be processed and shipped.
“See how slowly everyone moves?” Scott pointed out. “Everything is controlled and coordinated.”
Scott worked for several years as an engineer and a maintenance manager. His experience prepared him for an upcoming year of changes at the mill.
This year, the Port Townsend Paper Co. is planning to increase the capacity of its cardboard recycling plant.
“Currently we recycle about 400 tons per day of what is called ‘old corrugated container,’” Scott said. “With some change in technology and some relatively minor mechanical changes, we’re looking at taking that from 400 tons a day to about 750 tons a day of recycle.”
Last year, the mill recycled 294 million pounds of cardboard, about 30 percent of the state’s used cardboard. Scott hopes the new technology will increase that number to 45 percent.
“When the recycle plant was built in 1996, it used a medium-consistency batch system,” Scott said. “You basically put a bunch of bales of cardboard into a pulper, and you beat them up for 40 minutes, and you drain it and start over. We are moving to a lower-consistency system, with a more continuous flow and some other minor changes to improve the cleanliness and the quality of the fiber. From the outside, you won’t be able to tell.”
The update is an $11 million project, Scott said, and it’s the major focus for the company this year.
“Our whole process is built around recycling and reuse,” Scott said. “It’s a double win. You keep it out of landfills, and it’s a good low-cost fiber to reuse.”
During the past 10 to 12 years, the mill also has reduced fossil fuel use by almost 65 percent, Scott said.
This year, the mill also is getting ready to test a new way to minimize the odors of pulp production.
When chemical pulping first started, chemists came up with a process in which adding a bit of sulfur helped to preserve the strength of the fiber, Scott said. That sulfur is what causes the smell.
In recent years, the mill has reduced odor by adding pure oxygen and mixing it into the effluent in the pond.
“Now we’re getting ready to trial something that’s been done in other places, which is a direct injection of a diluted hydrogen peroxide into the effluent,” Scott said. “We’re going to trial that on the odor compounds.”
The paper company looks to hire local workers to fill positions, said Felix Vicino, human resources manager.
“This year we’re going to need some entry-level engineers,” Vicino said. “But we’re all-inclusive here. We have an accounting department, an IT department, sales, the whole nine yards.”
The paper company recently has been attending at high school college fairs.
“We go to all the high schools, Port Townsend, Sequim, Quilcene,” Vicino said. “If college isn’t for you, we’ve got a good opportunity here. We try to get a good message out there that there are alternatives if someone wants to stay in the area.”