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A Sustainable Crossroads

By AICC Staff

November 22, 2019

An important announcement was made on July 10 regarding an independent greenfield containerboard mill to be built in the United States Intermountain West. AICC Ambassador-at-Large Steve Young, AICC President Michael D’Angelo, and I had the opportunity to talk with the three principals in early August. From sustainability and responsibility to growing within an evolving market, we learned why Crossroads Paper will be a fixture for decades to come.

Years in the Making

While the official Crossroads Paper announcement occurred in July, the project began more than three years before. Visits, opinions, and advice started in 2016, three years before this article was written. We often see these announcements and think it was an overnight vision. For one, it’s seldom been that a recycling firm integrates forward with the building of a mill, but given the current conditions in China and Indonesia on imports of OCC/DLK/MOW, it’s a better play to stay close to the sources at home. The investigation began with conversations with the global suppliers of papermaking machinery and five specialty engineering firms. Next came the sending of project team leaders to mills, manufacturers, and engineering facilities across the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Latin America. The leadership team now believes they have the skills and knowledge to create a successful endeavor.

Who would have ever imagined a greenfield paper mill (not a repurposed or converted operation) in the Intermountain West region, so far removed from trees? Well, Pratt did a similar investment concept successfully in New York City many years ago, and so did McKinley/Biopappel in Prewitt, New Mexico; Schwarz Partners has ownership in the Port Hueneme, California, and Ontario, Canada, mills, having purchased them outright. This Crossroads Paper venture has an updated vision and focus on the end user, whether retail or e-commerce. Yes, end-user-driven! And in this new world where plastic is a dirty word, it is exciting to think there may continue to be unknown opportunities for paper-based packaging redesign.

What’s in a name? This one seems well chosen, as the Salt Lake City area is seen as a growing hub for transportation and logistics operations. It is the intersection of interstates 15 and 80, hence the name. It is centrally located to the three fastest-growing states in the U.S.—Nevada, Idaho, and Utah. While populations are smaller than those of coastal metropolitan areas, manufacturing is growing, and this new mill is envisioned to have a good shipping circle.

Press releases from several local and national agencies picked up on the uniqueness of this venture, seeing it not just as another mill announcement. One article mentioned that the members of the entrepreneurial group were not incumbent players in the containerboard market and have not operated papermaking entities. Well, that might be refreshing! Conceived from a view of near-term and future needs of retailing and e-commerce, it will not be a producer of the heavier-weight virgin fiber linerboard that makes its way into the produce, meat, and seafood markets that dominate the West Coast.

The Sasine Brothers

John Sasine, CEO of Crossroads Paper, has a 30-year track record of successful entrepreneurship in the recycling industry. As founding partner of Rocky Mountain Recycling, he has created the largest independent recycling company in the Intermountain West. Prior to founding the company in 1999, he worked in municipal recycling in California and Utah and was an executive with BFI and Waste Management. Under John’s leadership, Rocky Mountain Recycling has been recognized with Best of State Utah awards five times.

Ron Sasine, project development head of Crossroads Paper, has a 29-year career in containerboard and packaging manufacturing. He joined Westvaco (predecessor of WestRock) in 1990 at the company’s recycled-paper mill in Valinhos, Brazil. He then went on to lead sales of containerboard from Westvaco’s Charleston, S.C., mill to customers throughout Central and South America. Ron again relocated to Brazil in 1995, where he oversaw company strategy, M&A, and project development for the Valinhos and Três Barras mills. Upon returning to New York City in 2002, Ron led global sales integration for the packaging division of MeadWestvaco before accepting a role to head up Walmart’s internal packaging development and strategy.

While at Walmart, Ron led the implementation of the company’s shelf-ready packaging program, working with corrugating companies and brand owners across the country. Now a private consultant to leading packaging manufacturers, Ron is a frequent speaker on the packaging and corrugated box industry, having addressed SuperCorrExpo, AICC, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Agriculture and Materials Conference, TAPPI, and other industry events.

Moving Forward

Paul Busnardo, division president at CellMark Packaging Co., an Associate member of AICC, will lead the effort in the sales and marketing of the mill’s output. CellMark is a global supply chain service company providing products, services, and solutions to customers and suppliers all over the world. They facilitate trade and business development across multiple industries using a vast network of local offices and professional expertise.

Design features of the Valmet containerboard machine they will be running have not been revealed yet, but the choice of the front-end stock cleaning and preparation technology is critical in order to engineer world-class test liners and test mediums focused on low substances. It may be, from the design concept at this time, that it will be a modular concept in which upgrades and additional equipment can be added as necessary going forward. There must be a focus on being in the low-cost fourth-quarter performers domestically, and there should be a make-it-or-break-it decision criterion moving forward.

  • Here are some statements and statistics from various press releases:
  • 342,000 tons per year.
  • Recover fiber supplied by an affiliated partner.
  • 220-inch Valmet machine (that’s two 110-inch rolls).
  • Cost of $320 million.
  • They have stated the mill’s use of recovered/recycled water is only 10% of that of a virgin mill system.
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Image courtesy of Crossroads Paper.

  • Greenhouse gas reductions are expected at the manufacturing site and in transportation.
  • Fits the circular economy and sustainability .
  • Designed to combine various amounts of MOW.
  • A low-end linerboard substance target of 19#–21#; while this is not the lowest weight made in North America and certainly not as low as Europe’s 13#, it certainly provides for corrugated redesign for a region that has been starved for these opportunities.
  • A small 80-acre footprint.
  • 110 employees.
  • No burning of nonfibrous containments.
  • Credit Suisse is the financial advisor and will lead in the financing of the construction and the startup phases, including seeking other equity partners.

While the project is still in the engineering phases, as there has been no press announcement of the specifics of the paper machine design, we can look forward to more insights regarding the following:

  • Choice of the forming section, cleaning and screening systems, press size, testing protocols, physical properties, etc.
  • Those that they will partner with downstream.

OCC/DLK/mixed-fiber machines today swing fiber content back and forth, depending on recovered-fiber pricing. While one mill system in North America is built around 75% mixed office waste as their main furnish, that is not the concept at Crossroads Paper. At the time of this writing, in their projected startup year of 2022, they will be the only truly independent paper mill in the region without downstream converting.

Shipping lanes to West Coast converters are probably a little farther than to other new or converted mills, but local converters will have significant freight advantages. In addition, backhaul opportunities exist for recovered fiber because of the owners’ businesses. With their initial vision, how far out will they reach (deliver roll stock and backhaul recovered papers)? There is only one other mill in that area, and McKinley Paper/Biopappel has announced that they plan—even with their two transformed newsprint machines in Port Angeles, Washington—to be completely integrated by 2020. So that probably removes Crossroad Paper’s closest competitor for low-grammage test containerboards.

Efforts will continue to investigate and partner with chosen combiners, converters, and packaging designers to maximize the strength and print characteristics of Crossroad Paper’s materials.

They should be well positioned to tackle the Amazon Packaging Support and Supplier Network initiatives that took effect in August.

Final details will be communicated in early 2020. The global impacts of Asia may not have a direct effect, since Crossroads Paper will operate in a somewhat secluded region of the country. They are in the fastest-growing states as people continue to leave the three West Coast states to move east. Manufacturing will follow. Look for the company’s principals at AICC national meetings and summits. The mill’s location has good universities and engineering programs, although not with a papermaking focus. Labor is available, and a metropolitan city with outdoor recreation activities is a drawing card. Local support has coalesced around the project’s clean water and air initiative.


PortraitRalph Young is the principal of Alternative Paper Solutions and is AICC’s technical advisor. Contact Ralph directly about technical that impact our industry at askralph@aiccbox.org.