LUMBERTON — Lumberton Cellulose LLC is a local business that doesn’t make a lot of noise, but the cotton fiber processer will celebrate 50 years in Robeson County during 2018.
Lumberton Cellulose is the mill’s third name and Georgia-Pacific its third owner. GP Cellulose purchased the former Alpha Cellulose mill on Aug. 23, 2013, according to GP’s public affairs manager James Barnes.
The Lumberton operation was acquired by Georgia Pacific when it bought Buckeye Technologies, a Memphis, Tenn., based company, which had purchased Alpha Cellulose in 1997. Much has changed at the mill, which is perched on the Lumber River, said Chuck Oxendine, mill manager.
“The Lumberton facility has been in continuous operation since 1968 as a cotton linter pulp facility,” Oxendine said. “In 2001, a new line was constructed to serve the personal care products industry. In 2003, the cotton linter pulp operation was transferred to Memphis, and today, Lumberton continues to manufacture products for the personal care industry.”
Because Georgia Pacific is privately owned by Koch Industries, it can only reveal so much about its operations, and photographs inside the mill are not permitted.
Alpha Cellulose came to Lumberton from Van Wert, Ohio, in 1968, largely because it could get a wastewater permit. It processed its own wastewater and returned it to the Lumber River. It was privately owned by the the late Howard and Joan Wilkerson.
Alpha’s business was to remove and process the fine cotton fiber that grows close to the seed. Sold in bales, it went on to be processed into fine writing paper and paper money. Cellulose from Lumberton turned into big money around the globe.
Lumberton Cellulose no longer processes its wastewater, Oxendine said.
“For our manufacturing processes, we participate with other industrial companies in using the city of Lumberton’s waste water treatment facilities,” Oxendine said. “We are in compliance with our operational permits, including wastewater discharge allowances. On average, we discharge approximately 200,000 gallons of wastewater per day and our limit is approximately 400,000 gallons.”
Lumberton Cellulose does not say what companies it processes personal care products for, but its provides information about its processes and some of end products.
“At Lumberton Cellulose, we bleach and purify cotton and other cellulosic fibers in preparation for our customers to manufacture personal care products for a variety of uses,” Oxendine said.
“The final product is typically used by our customers to produce hygienic and cosmetic end-products but our products are also used in medical and filtration applications,” he said.
There are 30 employees at Lumberton Cellulose. Pay rates and future hiring and production plans are also confidential. But they offered some small hint.
“We do not speculate about the future of our operations; however, since being acquired by Georgia-Pacific in August 2013, we have invested more than a $1 million in capital projects that will help us create long-term value for our business and community,” Barnes said.
Georgia-Pacific quietly contributes to the community.
“We know strong communities make life better for everyone: our employees, our neighbors, and our customers,” Barnes said.
“Through the Georgia-Pacific Foundation, created in 1958 to set aside resources to improve life in the communities where we live and work, we have supported dozens of outstanding community-based organizations programs in Lumberton and throughout Robeson County focusing our investment of approximately $50,000 over the last four years in four areas: Education, environment, enrichment and entrepreneurship,” he said.