More Exports, Different Products
A Demand for Waste Paper
What Happened to the Little Trailer?
"Now about our office waste paper. Really, we took out approximately 150 kilos of paper. We found a truck close to the office where we could take waste paper; they pay us 13 Lithuanian cents per kilo. The truck comes for two hours every day from Grigishkes paper factory. Workers from the truck don't thank us for bringing the paper to them; it's their job. The little old collection trailer that you photographed, was finally destroyed ten days ago and now you have unique photos."
Behind this e-mail message from Vaidotas Blazys of ECOLOGIA's Vilnius office lies a fascinating story of the current evolution of paper recycling in Lithuania. Starting from ECOLOGIA's office on Kalvariju Street, Vaidotas' attempt to find a place for a year's accumulation of discarded office and wrapping paper led him to two long-established paper factories which, caught up in changing times, are themselves changing their products, their factory organization, and their sources of supply. In the process, economic incentives for more efficient use of resources intersect with ecological needs.
Fifteen years ago, all paper factories in Lithuania belonged to the Union of Factories. Under the Soviet system, raw materials were provided to the factories, and they were ordered where to sell their products. Used materials were defined by the planners as valuable to the economy. Waste paper , used clothing, and scrap metal were collected by the Lithuanian Union of Cooperatives, which had drop off trailers located in different neighborhoods. Schools had "recycling days", when children were asked to bring in newspapers and other waste paper from home, and were required to miss their first class in the morning in order to present their paper to the school collection. With independence and the shift away from a planned economy, however, paper factories, like those of many other industries, found themselves on their own.
Grigishkes Paper Factory, Grigishkes, Lithuania: An Ambitious Collector and Producer
Located about 20 kilometers outside Vilnius, Grigishkes is a major producer of recycled paper products. They collect 12,000 tons of waste paper in a year. They produce toilet paper (sold throughout Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), absorbent incontinence pads (sold mainly to hospitals and nursing homes in Germany), and thin white filter paper used in the making of cigarettes (sold to Russia and Belarus). Other products are brown corrugated cardboard,
brown wrapping paper and plain cardboard for boxes. "Hardboard" is made from wood scraps, and is sold primarily to UK, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Some virgin pulp (imported from Arkhangelsk, Russia) is used, but discarded paper from printing companies, plus post consumer waste paper, is their major raw material.
Grigishkes has been fully privatized since 1992, and its managers have had to find new markets and new sources of supply, and to search (unsuccessfully so far) for foreign investors to provide capital for modernizing their equipment. The lack of money for new technologies has had some benefits. They do not use chlorine bleaching technology - not so much out of environmental concerns, but because it is too expensive to purchase and to use. Another benefit is that the products they manufacture, though some are low quality by Western standards, are inexpensive and thus affordable to the majority of their local customers.
The competition in the new economic climate has led to industry-wide changes. One of the five paper factories in Lithuania has closed down completely, and the others operate at a fraction of their capacity. As a whole, the Lithuanian paper industry now produces 20% of the volume they did in 1989. To survive, factory owners and managers are promoting recycling more actively, attempting to work with local government to put up and maintain collection containers in urban neighborhoods. Factories are also paying citizens who bring paper to be recycled. However, the collection process is not well publicized, and it is hard to find out exactly where and when items will be collected. The little trailer referred to at the start of this article was a shabby structure sitting in an overgrown lot. It had once been a part of the Union of Cooperatives, but it looked totally abandoned and out of use. It did not seem to keep open during its posted hours.
The little trailer symbolized the perennial weak point of recycling efforts - the process of source separation, collection and transportation - which requires careful organization, planning, and publicity to be effective. There are indications that Grigishkes is attempting to fill this vacuum with their own increasingly active collection efforts.