Plant seeks new source of raw materials

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Print this page by James Heffernan

Mercury Paper in Strasburg is flushing Asia Pulp & Paper from its supply chain and instead will seek domestic sources of raw materials for its toilet paper and other tissue products.

The decision was made in response to an aggressive environmental campaign targeting APP’s harvesting practices in Indonesia, which groups like Greenpeace International claim are destroying rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands on the island and threatening native species like the Sumatran tiger and orangutan. Last fall, the activist group began pressuring U.S. retailers to stop buying products whose source material is derived from Asian timber.

“We share the desire of our retail customers for better assurances of sustainability for our products,” says Philip Rundle, CEO of Oasis Brands Inc., the sales and marketing partner for Mercury Paper and its sister manufacturer in California, Solaris Paper.

Mercury Paper’s $21 million facility in Strasburg, which opened in 2010, processes pulp and base paper into retail tissue products that are sold under the brand name Paseo. The company employs about 150 people locally.

Rundle says the transition to domestically sourced raw materials is under way, and over time Oasis Brands will implement similar sourcing for all of its products, which include facial tissue, bath tissue, napkins and paper towels for the household and away-from-home markets such as hotels.
There currently aren’t any domestic sources comparable to APP that use rapidly renewable fiber — trees that mature in just six to eight years — from sustainably managed plantations. Oasis Brands is seeking raw materials with Forest Stewardship Council certifications, which are highly regarded by non-governmental organizations and “something very few of our competitors have committed to implementing across their entire retail lineups,” Rundle says.

The Greenpeace effort, which launched in November, drew the ire of Virginia politicians and business groups, who characterized it as a smear campaign that could end up hurting employment in the northern Shenandoah Valley.

Business has slowed somewhat since the campaign began, Rundle says, but the company’s employees and its customers have remained supportive. “We remain committed to the Strasburg facility and to our employees, and we anticipate getting back to business as usual shortly,” he says. Formal announcements on contracts with U.S. suppliers are anticipated by the middle of the year, he says.

“We’re still a new and growing brand with more [market] penetration in certain areas of the country,” Rundle says. “The decision to change our sourcing strategy is much more about positioning our brand for that growth.”

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