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MRC gets FDA

Natchez company supplies recycled paper for Starbucks cups

A Natchez company is poised to become part of an environmentally-friendly solution to the problem of waste from throwaway paper cups. The Mississippi River Corporation (MRC) received the first-ever compliance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to supply bleached recycled pulp for food packaging.

MRC’s recycled material will become a component of famous Starbucks coffee cups, known around the world. Following successful testing, Starbucks expects to convert its hot beverage cups to 10 % recycled material, which the company says is an industry first.

George Matthews, executive vice president of MRC, said, “Obviously, we’re extremely happy to work with a company such as Starbucks that has a commitment to the environment. We’re thrilled to be associated with them.”

MRC, which came to Natchez in 1990, is a recycling company that takes waste paper and puts it through a process to remove glue, ink, staples, metal and anything not of fiber value. They capture the fiber and form it into sheets that are made into bales. These bales are shipped to paper and paper board companies to manufacture paper products with recycled content.

“Starbucks is our customer indirectly,” Matthews said. “We recycle the paper, ship it to a company that makes paper board who then send it to a company to make cups for Starbucks. There are at least four different companies and three steps involved in the process before the cups reach consumers.”

The Natchez company’s FDA compliance acceptance means they are within the guidelines to supply recycled pulp content that comes into contact with food. Consumers have the assurance that anything coming into contact with food and drink has the approval of the FDA.

“We have been working for a few years to get this approval and want to take it to other food product companies,” Matthews said. “That was not possible before we received the compliance.”

He says it’s too early to give a dollar amount of what this new venture will mean to business, but he is optimistic about future growth. With some underused capacity at the plant, there are no plans to add more employees at this time but expansion will come as needed. Currently, MRC has 100 employees plus sales people in other parts of the country.

“The use of recycled paper is a mature industry. A lot of paper gets recycled and has for a number of years but this is the first time it’s been approved for food packaging,” Matthews said. “This opens up new markets and there will be growth.”

He believes the recycled products industry has room for growth in all areas and thinks it’s more to protect the environment than anything else. “Most major corporations have incentives to do this and want to be good corporate citizens,” he added. “Using recycled content does not result in cheaper costs.”

Starbucks, Matthews said, has an inventory of paper cups that must be used during the next few months before the cups with recycled content are used to serve consumers some time in 2005. The giant coffee server collaborated for more than two years with its suppliers Solo Cup Company, MeadWestvaco and MRC to reach this innovation in food packaging.

A Starbucks news release stated that the company expects to convert the recycled content cups into retail stores in the U.S. These hot beverage cups will look and perform the same, but the new cups are expected to lower Starbucks’ dependence on tree fiber annually by more than five million pounds. Testing in early 2005 will validate performance, quality and safety issues.

“Beginning to use post-consumer recycled content hot beverage cups is an important milestone for Starbucks in addressing the environmental impact associated with our paper-buying practices,” Jim Donald, Starbucks CEO designate, said. “Starbucks’ goal is to convert hot cups in our U.S. company-operated retail stores by the end of calendar 2005. We will continue to explore ways to include recycled content in all Starbucks-branded paper goods in our stores.”

The Starbucks Web site lists several environmental programs that support the Seattle-based company’s commitment to using sound policies. It states that minimizing environmental impacts throughout the entire supply chain, form coffee bean to coffee cup, is a guiding principle and part of the way the company conducts business. They work with farmers to preserve the natural environment in places where coffee is grown and work to recycle coffee grounds into nutrient-rich soil.

When MRC located in Natchez, the paper-recycling company bought the former facility of Diamond International Company that had closed. Diamond International made molded egg cartons. MRC doesn’t make egg cartons, but Matthews said a lot of Diamond International’s infrastructure fit with what MRC does.

Furthermore, the company examines the environmental performance of store design and operations and seeks to reduce waste and energy and water consumption at stores.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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