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Changing The Game of Recycling

With a combined fortune of over $7 billion, Anthony Pratt and Zhang Yin have revolutionized the recycling trade with their focus on paper recycling to cardboard boxes.

anthony Pratt

Anthony Pratt stands among 30-foot rolls of paper — all made entirely from recycled paper. (Photo: Jamel Toppin for Forbes.)

For Anthony Pratt, His privately held Pratt Industries is one of the fastest-growing players in America’s $35 billion corrugated packaging industry and the only big boxmaker using 100%-recycled paper. By taking the nation’s paper trash–yellowed newspapers and greasy pizza boxes–and turning it into new packaging, Pratt has helped bolster a personal fortune FORBES estimates at $3.4 billion, while saving some 50,000 trees a day. That’s especially significant in today’s world of online shopping, where everything comes in a box. “We were in recycling before recycling was cool,” says Pratt, 55.

Pratt’s journey began at a single wasteful paper mill in 1991. That’s when he was dispatched to the U.S. from Australia, where his family operated Visy, a recycled-packaging juggernaut founded by his grandfather in 1948. (Today Pratt Industries and Visy operate as sister companies, both run by Pratt.) Arriving in the country he quickly saw a gap in the market. Everyone was making paper from trees. Why wasn’t anyone just recycling the stuff heading for the landfills, as Visy did in Australia? He soon shuttered the Macon mill and focused on recycling the waste produced by competitors.

A Pratt Industries employee walks through a maze of refuse that will soon be turned into some of the 12,000 boxes Pratt produces every day. (Photo: Jamel Toppin for Forbes.)

A Pratt Industries employee walks through a maze of refuse that will soon be turned into some of the 12,000 boxes Pratt produces every day. (Photo: Jamel Toppin for Forbes.)

That decision–made more than a decade ahead of the recent consumer-driven outcry for greener products – unleashed a domino effect of efficiency. Unlike his rivals, who must operate mills close to timber sources and then send the paper to factories near cities, where it’s turned into boxes, Pratt situates operations where they make the most logistical sense: near cities, which are full of waste–and customers–thereby cutting transportation costs.

Zhang Yin “Queen of Trash” as she is fondly called  had formed a company in the 1990s to collect paper for recycling and ship it to China. It was a step up from life in Hong Kong, where she had opened a paper-trading company with $3,800 to cash in on China’s chronic paper shortages.

“I remember what a man in the business told me back then,” Zhang Yin said. “He said, ‘Waste paper is like a forest. Paper recycles itself, generation after generation.'”

Zhang Yin

Zhang Yin

Her companies take heaps of waste paper from the United States and Europe, ship it to China and recycle it into corrugated cardboard, which is then used for boxes that are packed with toys, electronics and furniture that are stamped “Made in China” and then often shipped right back across the ocean to Western consumers.

After the boxes are thrown away, the cycle starts all over again.

Late last year, Forbes magazine named Zhang the wealthiest woman in China. She may even be the richest self-made woman in the world, challenging a handful of others.

That company, Nine Dragons Paper, is now the biggest paper maker in China. It raised nearly $500 million when it went public in Hong Kong last March.

“My goal is to make Nine Dragons, in three to five years, the leader in containerboards,” Zhang said emphatically during a short interview in her Hong Kong office. “My desire has always been to be the leader in an industry.”

She has not lost her ambition, though. Sometimes called the Queen of Trash, she doesn’t disown the title. But, she said, “Someday, I’d like to be known as the queen of containerboards.”

Zhang and Pratt innovations in recycling have not only created income for them but as well created a domino effect across the world with the embrace and awareness of recycling increasing swiftly.





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