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Paper markets adapt to global changes

The changing nature of recovered fibre flowing from the US and Europe dominated the agenda at BIR’s paper division meeting at its Amsterdam convention.

Simone Scaramuzzi, commercial director of LCI Lavorazione Carta Riciclata Italiana Srl in Italy, focused on the shifting trend in recovered paper shipments from Europe to Asia over recent years, particularly following the introduction of China’s import ban.

This, he said, had diverted recovered paper to other destinations, to investments in other Asian countries, and to altered shipping services and prices in a market that had ‘changed drastically in the last four or five years’. The Covid pandemic and rising energy costs had also been important factors.

Scaramuzzi pointed out that European exports to China tumbled from 5.9 million tonnes in 2016 to just 0.7 million tonnes in 2020. The leading Asian buyers of European recovered fibre in 2022 had been Indonesia (1.27 million tonnes), India (1.03 million tonnes) and Turkey (680 000 tonnes). Total volumes dispatched from Europe to Asia in 2022 climbed around 12% year on year to 4.9 million tonnes.

While Asia was building new machines, Europe was largely converting existing machines from graphic to brown grade production but Scaramuzzi noted that Europe still needed to export recovered fibre to maintain a balance between production and demand.

The considerable flow of recovered fibre from the USA to Asia showed that Asian markets ‘will always look to the USA first’ because of the high content of kraft and long fibres, according to John Atehortua, regional trading manager at CellMark in the Netherlands.

But he added that the import ban in China had forced a shift in mentality among OCC exporters in the US who now ‘have to be more proactive about seeking clients in Asia’.

In 2016, China took over 50% of US OCC exports whereas today more than half of the shipments were going to India, Thailand or Indonesia.

President Francisco Donoso, using the final figures for 2021, noted that the Far East remained the world’s largest recovered paper producer at approaching 120 million tonnes per annum, equivalent to just under 50% of the world total.

In volume terms, Asia was also the leading importer of recovered paper while North America was the largest exporter.

Donoso presented the paper division’s most prestigious honour, the Papyrus Award, to Ranjit Singh Baxi, a past president of BIR. Baxi has been the driving force behind Global Recycling Day, an annual celebration of the importance and the successes of the world recycling industry.

Baxi thanked everyone who had contributed to its development: ‘This award is for all of you in this room and across the world,’ he told delegates.

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