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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
Declining demand and insupportable sales and profits have brought contraction instead of growth to some sectors of the pulp and paper industry. That is well-known, of course, and the decision to shut down mills that can no longer bring in profits also is as equally well accepted as a right response. And so the pulp and paper horizon is dotted with closed-down assets, and there is no consensus on what to do with them.

Perhaps it is time to introduce a new word into the discussion. That word is "repurpose." Merriam-Webster defines that word as "to give a new purpose or use to." Has there been in the industry any serious, full-blown consideration and discussion about how to give new purposes or uses to shut-down assets? If so, it is not apparent.

It is inconceivable that the enormous pool of brain power and intelligence that is resident in the pulp and paper industry's scientists and engineers could not conceive of new purposes and uses if organized and committed to the task. This might be done by task forces within larger companies and by ad hoc think tanks of people drawn from smaller companies in industry partnerships or associations.

Sometimes it is helpful to look outside the industry for creative insights. One such example is being demonstrated by Swedish home furnishings giant Ikea. Ikea has unveiled a line of furnishing made of paper--paper pulp, to be exact. The company plans to send this new line of sofas, chairs, stools and other home furnishings to stores around the world, beginning in May 2017.

Australian reporter Adam Estes reported on gizmodo.com.au that Ikea has developed a process that enables pressure molding pulp into "...hyper-resilient forms. This stuff is rock-solid," he said. The new process is reportedly not dissimilar to making egg cartons out of pulp--but considerably more advanced. Attending an unveiling of the new line, Estes said, "I sat in the paper chair...and it felt pretty good. I knocked on the bookshelves and they felt sturdy. I sat on the sofa; it was plush. I ran my fingers along the fabric. It felt soft, like a well-washed denim."

Ikea cannot afford to introduce products that don't perform well. And it is serious about this one. An Ikea spokesman said, "We have built factories around it." The first of these factories is in Sweden, but later manufacturing facilities will be located near factories in other countries, to simplify sourcing and make the global shipping process as efficient as possible.

This is only a very brief outline of what one company, outside the pulp and paper industry, is doing with a common industry product that is in surplus. We wonder: is it causing any light bulbs to click on over the heads of any Paperitalo Publications readers?

Chuck Swann is the senior editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at chuck.swann@taii.com.

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