By Jim Thompson
On 9 September 2019 WestRock announced a "
" of the North Charleston, South Carolina mill.
Their press release announced this will result in the permanent closure of one machine producing 288,000 tons of linerboard per year. Associated with this will be a reduction of approximately 260 employee positions.
This makes a lot of sense. A modern recycled linerboard machine can be expected to produce about 360,000 tons per year with 120 employees. The defunct North Charleston machine, by any measure, is clearly out of line.
Modern recycled machines rule the day and WestRock has three of them in Solvay, New York. Within a few years, due to production creep, the WestRock fleet will make up these tons without adding new assets.
But there is another problem on the horizon. We need a regular feed of virgin fiber linerboard and medium into the national infrastructure to make up for that portion of the corrugated stream that is not recycled paper sourced. Yet, the virgin mills are way out in the woods, far away from the customers, and have personnel economics like the North Charleston mill, if not worse.
It will take a while, but these dynamics will result in interesting times in the future.