Can Paper Survive the Digital Age?

You’ve heard it countless times: paper is a thing of the past, computers and smart phones have wiped out demand, and we’re entering a paperless era. But not so fast! Despite the doomsday predictions, the paper industry continues to innovate and evolve. New uses and applications emerge every day, such as the fantastic products below.

Sustainable Packing
papernutsThe corrugated shipping container just got a partner in crime. PaperNuts are a sustainable alternative to polystyrene packing peanuts or bubble wrap. Made from 100% recycled paper, they interlock to create a static-free barrier that prevents damage during shipping. They’re also an on-demand technology: users convert them on-site, as needed.

Molded Magic
Molded Pulp JugNestlé Purina PetCare’s cat litter packaged in a molded pulp jug is a segment first. The jug and lid are made from 100% recycled paper that can be recycled curbside. The board doesn’t require coatings, as the thermoforming process imparts moisture resistance. The design also features a molded handle for easy lifting.

Small Fibers, Big Ideas

Scientists recently developed equipment that breaks fiber down to the molecular level. Tissue-thin nanocellulose paper is durable, hard to rip, and is water and oil resistant, yet doesn’t block light. Offering many exciting possibilities for application, nanocellulose (currently being made by Southworth Paper Co.) could be used in 3D printing or in products such as bandages or parchment paper. Regardless, the nanocellulose market stands to be worth $250 million by 2020.

Clearly, paper has a place in the Digital Age. With an ongoing spirit of innovation and big ideas that utilize cutting-edge expertise, our industry will be able to provide consumers with valuable and relevant paper products for years to come.

Single-Stream Recycling: Not the Blessing it is Made Out to Be

single stream processSingle-stream recycling—a recycling system in which residents place paper, glass, aluminum, tin, and plastic into a large bin for curbside pickup—has recently been adopted by many U.S. cities as a way to increase recycling and collection rates while cutting costs. At first glance, this new type of recycling program sounds like a no brainer. However, just because materials are collected at the curb does not necessarily mean they will be recycled.

Although implementing such a recycling program requires towns to purchase new bins and trucks, only one driver is needed instead of two, thus saving the town money on salaries. And with just one recycling bin to pick up instead of the two with dual-stream programs, it takes less time to drive the route, thus further decreasing labor costs and vehicle wear and tear.

Yes, it is true that there is usually a net increase in materials collected with a single-stream program. But what you may be surprised to learn is that the percentage of materials recycled is actually less than that of dual-stream models, largely due to contamination by broken glass, food and organic residues, and other paper grades. For example, after adopting a single-stream program between 2008-2011, Ann Arbor, MI saw contamination jump from 2% to 15%. Other communities have seen contamination rates skyrocket to almost 28%.

Not only does contamination send perfectly reusable and recyclable material to landfills, it also increases processing costs as recyclers spend extra time and labor to remove contaminants (as broken glass can damage or even destroy processing equipment). Thus, most decreases in municipal collection costs are more than offset by increases in contaminated paper processing costs.

Furthermore, the final recycled paper created from a single-stream program is of such poor quality that it not only sells for less than cleaner recycled paper, but also has a shorter life expectancy (i.e. it will have to be permanently landfilled sooner than cleaner, higher-grade recycled paper). The city of Ann Arbor, for instance, lost more than $10,000 in revenue in just four years because its comingled, low-quality recyclable materials fetched a lower price than its previous higher-quality dual-sourced recycled materials.

Since recycling depends upon the participation of residents, local municipalities, and private industry, any recycling model has the potential to benefit some while burdening others. Unfortunately, single-stream recycling programs generally displace costs from the municipality to the paper industry and negatively impact the entire recycling system. So the next time you hear your local legislator count off the benefits of transitioning your recycling program to a single-stream system, ask them how they are going to save the town money with a program that only serves to increase costs while decreasing the amount of materials that are ultimately recycled.

How to Integrate Social Media into your Business Strategy

Social media on SmartphoneAlthough many forward-thinking companies have recognized the importance of adding social media to their corporate strategy, it can be confusing to determine which platform is most appropriate to use.  But with just a little insight into who uses each platform, you will be able to easily determine which one(s) will best help your company maintain communications with existing clients – and allow you to reach out to a whole new group of potential customers.

A career-oriented site where middle to upper-class professionals network with colleagues and share achievements and credentials, LinkedIn has close to 200 million users worldwide. Most LinkedIn users are middle-aged, college educated, and have a high income (almost half have an annual household income over $100,000).  So for converters, the best use of LinkedIn is to have your key sales personnel maintain a profile on the site so they can not only research prospective customers but also determine if existing customers are ready to make a purchase.

Twitter, on the other hand, is a platform through which users publish short messages (called “tweets”) for other users to read, usually over a smartphone.  With a much larger community than LinkedIn (over 500 million users), more than half follow companies, brands, or products, checking in several times a day.

Growth on this social media platform has been highest amongst 18 to 24 year olds, with the most active users being urban-dwellers.  So if your customers are young urbanites, or if you’d like to reach a younger crowd, it would be worthwhile to establish a presence on Twitter. Just make sure to assign someone on staff who has the time and ability to research and “tweet” short factoids several times a week about industry news, upcoming events, or special promotions.

Last but not least is Facebook, a platform where users share personal information, video, photos, and even viewpoints with friends, family, and colleagues.  Facebook has a billion users across the globe, with 143 million users in the U.S. alone.  The typical Facebook user is 40 years old, has some college education, and an income of between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.

Like Twitter, Facebook is also an environment where companies, brands, and products can garner huge exposure.  In fact, almost half (47%) of those who use social media say Facebook has the greatest impact on purchasing behavior.  So if you want to drive purchasing, statistically speaking, Facebook is the superior social medium for selling your products or serves and communicating with consumers.

Social Media as a Business Strategy

On the topic of social media for business, content strategist Lee Odden notes, “Companies that make investments in better connecting with their customers (via social media) have a distinct advantage over those that are resolved to wait and see.”  What he does not mention, however, is that building an online presence can take years.  Fortunately, building an online strategy is free, does not take an immense time commitment, and statistics show that participation will improve your company’s image in the eyes of your employees, consumers, and customers.

For instance, 94% of social media users report that a brand’s image is enhanced when a company participates in social media.  For brand owners, this is great news.  For paper mills, however, social media is probably not a viable a way to sell paper; rather, it should be utilized as a vehicle for showcasing your staff’s expertise, educating consumers, and identifying potential customers.

Additionally, social media users will be more apt to visit your website if you offer them an intimate glimpse into the compelling sustainable world of paper via social media.  For instance, over the course of a few weeks you could post on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn photos and descriptive captions of the life of a tree.  Or have someone follow a paper-based package from its inception in the forest, to the paper mill, and then to design, pre-press development, printing, filling, shipping, and display on the store shelf.  From there, you can track the package from the consumer purchase, storage at home, its use (and reuse), and finally, its disposal in the recycling bin and its reuse as a recycled paper product.

By creating compelling, informal social media postings such as these, you will garner attention and portray your company as an industry expert to a worldwide audience of potential customers and consumers.  As David Hauser, co-founder of the virtual phone system Grasshopper, explains, “By interacting with your customers in a less formal way, you’ll establish a strong human connection that helps build brand loyalty.”

Technological Trailblazing: Taking Advantage of Intelligent Design

Package indicators“Intelligent design” refers to innovations that help a substrate such as paper or paperboard maintain the integrity of a product or communicate information to the consumer. These innovations can establish authenticity, measure temperature and humidity, or alert users if perishable food has expired. Fortunately, the paper products industry is well positioned to take advantage of these new trends.

One such advancement in intelligent design is the time-temperature indicator. Using ink that will fade after a designated period of time, or by tracking the migration of dye through a filter paper, such labels can show the accumulated time and temperature history of a product or alert consumers to the potential for food-borne illness.

Thermochromic inks and papers are also designed to monitor the safety of food, beverages, or pharmaceuticals. These papers or inks respond to temperature fluctuations in the product by changing colors or revealing messages. For instance, a thermochromic paper milk carton that has been left out on the counter too long will transform to read “Please refrigerate,” warning that the milk has become too warm.

With so many consumers making shopping decisions with their smart phones securely in hand, a mobile technology called augmented reality has gained tremendous popularity. Augmented reality (often called AR) allows the shopper to train her phone’s camera on a label, view the product through her viewfinder, and see superimposed computer-generated images on the product. AR can reveal relevant data about the product, such as its ingredients, a translation, a wine pairing recommendation, or where the product was sourced.

Intelligent design has created major buzz in the past several years and as an industry, is expected to grow 8% annually to $3.5 billion by 2017 (Freedonia Group). As these innovations become more mainstream, they will also become more affordable and customizable. By providing your clients with such state-of-the-art technologies now, you will not only position yourself as a technological trailblazer but also gain significant advantage over your competitors.