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Newsletter Archive - Production

How Paper IS Made

01/10/2008 - Nippon Paper LogoNothing is more core to the Yellow Pages industry than the very paper it is printed on. We had a unique opportunity to visit the Nippon USA Paper mill in Port Angeles, WA, just a couple of hours west of Seattle recently. What we found was truly amazing; not just the process, but how operations like this demonstrates just how the Yellow Pages industry can be an environmentally progressive business.

First, as a primer, this Nippon Paper Industries (NPI USA) plant is focused strictly on lightweight telephone directory papers which are used in both white and yellow pages, and has been for more than 30 years. This plant produces some 160,000 tons per year of directory paper with 238 employees using two paper machines. NPI Japan acquired the plant (and its other holdings) from Daishowa Japan Ownership in 2003.
Readers should note that in this article, I’m really oversimplifying the whole process. But the more important part is that from the time raw materials come in the back door of the plant, it only takes around 10 hours before a 13,000+ pound roll of paper (ready to be printed on) comes out the front end. And the process is fascinating to see.

I will be using this overall description of the process throughout this article, so keep it handy:

Process Overview

The process of making paper for the Yellow Pages industry begins with receiving three key raw products:

  1. Wood chips from saw mill byproducts
  2. Old newspaper/white paper, and old telephone directories
  3. Dried kraft pulp
  4. Wood Chips

The first raw material is the residual byproducts that a saw mill generates when trees are milled for lumber. “Hemlock” as it is called is a combination of the wood chips (shown below on the left), and the “hog”, which is bark and other tree residuals (shown on the right) received from local sawmills. The bark is burned in a boiler and used as steam in the factory.

   wood chips from mill.jpg

Other note here is that the vast majority of these wood byproducts come from lumber out of Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) approved managed tree farms, making this one of the most eco-driven process ever.

The chips and other wood by products arrive in mass at the mill. Below is a pile of other wood by-products that will used in the “Dried kraft” stream:

Nippon wood chips.jpg

They are run through a mechanical pulping machine where water is added to create an output that is mostly in a liquid state.


The second raw material is sorted old newspapers that the plant has purchased from local recyclers – items like those newspapers you have tossed in your recycling bin at work or home. It arrives in large bales:

incoming paper garbage.jpg

While this is supposed to be screened white newspapers only, you can see things such as paper bags, and yes, even a directory or two in the bales:

yp in paper garbage.jpg

The other part of this stream is recycled Yellow Pages. This is the only plant in North America that has reengineered their systems to accommodate recycled Yellow Pages in their stream. Here is a pile ready to be recycled (and a picture of Harold Norlund – the Resident Mill Manager at this plant):

yp ready for recyling.jpg

While this wastepaper is suppose to be fully screened for non-paper items (e.g. glass, metal, plastics), NPI has found that with the increasing use of single-stream recycling (where you toss all of your curb side recyclables in one bin where they are separated later) the resulting stream has become increasing contaminated with now a full 15% being non-paper items. As a result the paperwaste items are run through a long cylindrical separated drum. This large round drum pulper is about 60 feet in total length and 10 feet in diameter. The first part of the pulper is 40 feet long and has internal paddles like a front load washing machine to pickup and rotate the paper/water combination. The screen zone (many many 3/8” holes in the pulper steel plates) is in the final 20 feet allowing the pulp to drop through the holes in the pulper, while the non-paper garbage (plastics/steel) stays in working it’s way out the end of the pulper. The pulper turns at a rate of 13 rpm. It takes about 20 minutes for an object to work it’s way through the pulper.

removing metails n plastics.jpg

As you see here, there is no shortage of cans, glass, metal, plastic or whatever that is left at the backend. These waste items are either recycled further or sent to the landfill.


From here you now need to add some water to the process and you have paper products ready for the next stage – removing the inks/dyes from the paper.

This next is achieved through some neat science – by adding some low foaming soap similar to the kinds of soap you might use in your dishwasher at home, the mixture goes through a series of chemical washes so that the inks separate and actually attach to the bubbles generated so they can be skimmed off in a series of large vats. Here is one in action:

skim ink.jpg

At the end of this process you are left with a damp, pulpy type material that reminds me of what damp paper towels would look like.


Dried Kraft:

The third raw material used is Dried Kraft. Without getting overly technical, this material consists mainly of long stringy fibers that will not dissolve in water and will be important later in aiding in inter-fiber bonding when the paper is produced. We now have everything needed to begin the process of making paper. Some clay filler to reduce showthrough is also added before we begin the process of forming a sheet on the paper machine.

With these three raw material streams ready to go, its on to the process of making paper!!!!! I’ll be following that process flowchart that I presented in the early part of this article.

Let’s Make Paper: Step 1 - Forming

The three major raw materials, all of which are in a Cream-Of-Wheat type consistency, as they are brought together at the head box (bottom of process diagram --- the left most tower in the diagram). Here is what each stream looks like as it approaches the start of the forming process.


After being blended together and additional water added, the mixture is now about 99% water and 1% fibers. The mix is sprayed on to large wire forming section of the paper machine where the excess water drains off (actually vacuumed off) and is recycled, while the remaining fibers and some water remain. At this point the pulp has moved from about 1% solids to around 15% which are still left on the wire screens.

Step 2 - Pressing

Now the fibers are moved through a series of 3 large presses and belts where upwards of 700 pounds per linear inch are applied to further squeeze move of the fluids out.


By the end of this process the pulp has moved to about 40+% solids, and the rest water.


Step 3 - Drying

Having reached a key consistency, the pulp is now run over a series of 35 large steam heated rollers to further dry out the paper. This close up picture of two of these drying rollers does not do it justice as the paper moves through the rolls at 3,275 feet per minute (about 37 miles per hour).

At this point it is a highly automated process where cameras monitor the production line watching for possible breaks


Step 4 - Finishing

When the paper reaches this final stage it has reached a point where it is about 92% dry. It can’t be any drier because the paper would become more brittle and subject to breaking, as well as generating significant static electricity.

The paper is run through a series of 4 finishing rollers which “calender” the paper allowing it to be tested for the correct thickness and uniformity. The finished paper is then wound on to large rolls ready to be cut and packaged. These jumbo reels weighs between 13,000 to 17,000 lbs (paper only -- doesn’t include the weight of the metal spool that holds the paper).

roll ready for cutting.jpg

The jumbo roles are then cut to 2 sets of 50” diameter rolls on the winder. These custom cut rolls are then sent on to the printers.


This was a truly amazing process to watch and again, many thanks to the NPI team for giving us this inside peek at perhaps one of the most important steps in the making of a print Yellow Pages. And to think this plant runs 3 shifts, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We also had the “privilege” (not sure the factory workers were as excited as we were) of experiencing a paper break during processing which requires the line to be shut down and the reel fixed/rewound:

last one

The last note for readers on this subject is just how dedicated Nippon is in reducing the impact on the environment in their manufacturing efforts which is a key item that publishers should highlight with their environmental critics. I noted the following key points in their processes:

  1. The combination of filler, recycled fiber and SFI certified residual sawmill chips to fiber makes up over 80% of the material in their finished product
  2. The remaining fiber is residual sawmill chips from small local managed tree farms or from DNR managed Federal lands
  3. 40 % Recycle Fiber content in finished product
  4. This is the only mill that actively recycles old directory books
  5. They use no Boreal, “old growth”, or rain forest fiber used in making this paper
  6. The plant has no water or air permit violations, or other outstanding environmental issues – meaning they are playing by the rules and doing all they can

I’d like to see other print media make the same claims.