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A paper mill in Maine asks for donations

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Paper is really expensive right now. Prices for some cardboard products have more than doubled since last November. Given that reality, a paper mill in Maine is looking for donations. They're asking residents to drop off their old Amazon and pizza boxes. Maine Public Radio's Robbie Feinberg has this story.

ROBBIE FEINBERG, BYLINE: The paper mill in Old Town, Maine, has operated on and off for more than 150 years, mostly producing pulp and tissue paper. It's an up-and-down industry. The mill closed for a few years before it reopened in 2019. But Brennan Burks, a spokesperson for mill owner ND Paper, says recently, demand for cardboard has skyrocketed, fueled by more people shopping online.

BRENNAN BURKS: You think about how many Amazon delivery boxes you get on a daily or weekly basis, you think about the conversion - transformation away from, you know, traditional plastic packaging at your local grocery store to paper bags.

FEINBERG: But that demand has meant a spike in prices for OCC, or old corrugated cardboard. Those are used boxes and other cardboard products. The mill uses them to make recycled pulp, which it then sells to other manufacturers. So with prices going up, the company has created an alternative supply. It set up a metal bin close to the mill and has begun asking residents from four local towns to donate their own used cardboard.

BURKS: Corrugated boxes, packaging boxes, paperboard and food packaging boxes and pizza boxes, of course, without the wax paper or the pizza itself.

FEINBERG: Besides the financial advantage for the company, the mill is also touting the environmental benefits, too. Less than 40% of Maine's municipal waste was recycled in 2019. The mill hopes that by collecting pizza and cereal boxes, fewer will end up in the dump.

BURKS: We want to reduce the amount of cardboard that goes in the landfills for a sustainability practice of leaving the planet better than we found it. But also, we can use that material to then create recycled pulp, which we then send out to the global marketplace to be created into other packaging products.

FEINBERG: The program is currently only open to residents of the communities right around Old Town. But with prices still high and many locals already dropping off their pizza boxes, the mill is already looking at how to expand the program even further.

For NPR News, I'm Robbie Feinberg.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'IMPERATRICE SONG, "SONATE PACIFIQUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.