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Working steadily on sustainable paper mill

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Woody Harrelson (left) and Jeff Golfman, partners in the Winnipeg company Prairie Pulp & Paper Inc.

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Woody Harrelson (left) and Jeff Golfman, partners in the Winnipeg company Prairie Pulp & Paper Inc.

THERE has not been a new paper mill built in North America for close to 40 years and the last one built has been decommissioned.

But that doesn't scare Jeff Golfman away from his dream of building a paper mill in Manitoba that will make 100 per cent tree-free, chlorine-free, sulphur-free wheat-straw paper.

The founder of Prairie Pulp & Paper Inc. realizes he's still "a few years" away from being able to build that mill, but he is undaunted after more than 15 years developing the product.

At the BioFibre 2013 conference in Winnipeg this week, Golfman said progress continues to be made.

Demand for the company's Step Forward paper brand -- now being sold in Staples stores in Canada and the U.S. -- continues to grow.

Andrew Gustyn, director of sustainability for Unisource, the global distribution company that distributes all the paper products to Staples stores, said the product is gaining traction.

"The market is expanding. Sales are growing month after month, year after year," Gustyn said. "What's particularly positive is that we are at the point now where we are expanding into the commercial print environment. That interest has been generated from publicity surrounding the product. It's definitely moving in the right direction."

The Step Forward paper in the market now is made at mills in India using 70 per cent wheat straw fibre and 30 per cent tree fibre.

Golfman said a couple of tests runs using 100 per cent wheat-straw fibre have recently been completed, including one on commercial scale. He said the quality-testing results from that run will be known in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, the distribution channels in North America are being expanded. Starting next week, Step Forward paper will be carried by Lyreco, another global paper distributor to businesses and next year Basics, the office supply distribution company, will start carrying Step Forward paper.

Golfman is a tireless promoter of the company and has been helped in accumulating unprecedented media coverage for his product by his partnership with actor Woody Harrelson.

Golfman said Harrelson has convinced even more of his friends to get involved in promoting the product and expects that will attract even more attention.

Not unlike any product manufacturer, Golfman works every angle possible to increase sales.

But he continues to maintain the vision for the company is to build the paper mill in Manitoba.

"Our sales milestones are fairly subjective," he said. "We want the factory. The game changes when we build the factory. In our discussions with people on Bay Street and Wall Street and Silicon Valley, they say we have to get annual sales up to around $25 million to $40 million. They say that's the comfort level to pull the trigger."

He wouldn't say how close he is to that other than to say "We're a few years away yet."

Meanwhile, there are paper companies in India -- where five to seven new mills are being built every year and where about 200 of them already make paper using some portion of agricultural fibre in their production -- that want to partner with him in Canada.

"They want to come to Canada with us," he said.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2013 B8

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