The E-Commerce Era Is Breathing New Life Into Washington’s Paper Industry

BY: BILL VIRGIN, Seattle Business

The pulp and paper industry in Washington has become a shadow of its former self as economic trends and changing business practices have combined to shrink demand for paper products. As recently as 1990, paper manufacturing accounted for about 16,500 jobs. Today, it’s about 7,600, according to state employment figures.

There is one segment of the state’s pulp and paper industry, however, that is seeing millions of dollars invested in new plants and equipment. The inspiration for all that investment can be found as close at hand as the deliveries arriving on your front porch.

The surge in e-commerce led by the growth of online retailers, including Seattle-based, has created a huge need for containers to get goods to the consumers and businesses purchasing them. For most shippers, that means ensuring a ready supply of the lowly corrugated cardboard box.

“E-commerce and mail-order retail uses about seven times more corrugated [cardboard] per dollar of sales than traditional retail logistics,” says Derek Mahlburg, senior economist with forest-products market-analysis firm Fastmarkets RISI. “So, as e-commerce has grown at an average of 18% annually since 2000, it’s become a significant driver of corrugated demand growth in North America.”