Aug 20, 2023

WestRock continues consolidation with plans to close paper mill in Tacoma, Washington

WestRock Co. is moving forward with its footprint optimization strategy with the announcement of its second facility closure in as many weeks.

The Atlanta-based paper and packaging producer will permanently cease operations at its paper mill in Tacoma, Washington, and will conclude production by the end of September following a number of moves to consolidate production over the first half of this year.

The company cites a combination of high operating costs and the need for significant capital investment as determining factors in the decision to shut the Tacoma site, which impacts approximately 400 employees.

“WestRock is working to optimize our operational footprint and consolidate production in order to improve our return on invested capital and we have made the difficult decision to close the Tacoma mill as part of this effort,” CEO David B. Sewell says.

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“One of the most critical factors we consider when making the difficult decision to close a facility is the impact it will have on the lives of our team members, and we are committed to assisting our Tacoma team with exploring roles at other WestRock locations and nearby companies as well as providing outplacement assistance.”

The Tacoma mill produces kraft and white top liner and bleached pulp with a combined annual capacity of 510,000 tons. WestRock says the majority of kraft and white top liner will be transitioned to other mills in its system while approximately 600,000 annual tons of pulp and 25,000 annual tons of specialty-grade capacity will be eliminated because of the shutdown.

According to a permit filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, the mill, which covers nearly 60 acres, consumes mostly virgin wood fiber as well as old corrugated containers (OCC). The permit dated April 2021 indicates the site consumes about 650 tons of OCC per day—around 237,000 tons annually.

In its latest sustainability report released in June, WestRock says it consumed 5.5 million tons of recovered fiber in the 2022 fiscal year.

The company also filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, notice last month indicating its plans to close a St. Louis corrugated container manufacturing facility by mid-September, affecting 52 employees. The plant is expected to cease production by mid-August and transfer production to other WestRock facilities.

RELATED: Greif to close Rock Hill, South Carolina, manufacturing site

The moves are part of the company’s ongoing broader optimization effort.

Last year, WestRock permanently closed a mill in Panama City, Florida, and ceased corrugated medium manufacturing operations at its recycled paper mill in St. Paul, Minnesota, with the shutdown in St. Paul resulting in the elimination of 200,000 tons of annual corrugated medium production.

The company then announced this May the planned closure of North Charleston, South Carolina, paper mill, which will shut down by the end of this month after operating for 86 years, as well as the closure of corrugated container plant in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, impacting a combined 575 employees.

“We are accelerating our efforts to streamline our operations and drive growth in the most attractive markets,” Sewell said in May. “Looking ahead, we remain committed to operating world class assets and investing our capital to drive the greatest returns.”

RELATED: Essity closes paper mill in South Glens Falls, New YorkRELATED: Greif to close Rock Hill, South Carolina, manufacturing site