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Grim picture painted by European paper recyclers

Paper recyclers in Europe say the viability of their businesses is threatened by regulatory and economic obstacles coupled with substantial price falls over the past two years.

ERPA, the recovered paper branch of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC), says Europe’s recycling industry cannot bear such market conditions for a third year and regulatory barriers need to be addressed urgently.

Huge oversupply

It argues that, although the paper recycling chain is ‘already circular in many aspects’, developments in the global market negatively impact on recycling in Europe. At the core is an oversupply of recovered paper of 7-9 million tonnes, the bulk of which until recently was exported to Asian markets, notably China. These markets have shrunk as importing countries have restricted or banned such trade.

‘Crisis situation’

‘The absence of end-markets for eight million tonnes of recovered paper over the last two years has resulted into a sharp decline of recovered paper prices whose market price is 300% lower in June 2019 than in June 2017,’ says ERPA. ‘The paper recycling sector is currently in a crisis situation with an increasing amount of companies active in paper collection and recovery ceasing to operate on a temporary or permanent basis, which is at odds with the objective of moving towards a more circular economy’.

New hopes

Even so, ERPA argues that restrictions imposed by China and other countries in the region offer opportunities for the European paper recycling industry provided a package of measures and interventions is introduced urgently:

•Firmer actions by the European and national authorities to prevent the implementation of trade restrictions based on discriminatory and disproportionate criteria and free and fair access to international markets needed to balance supply and demand.

•EU wide end-of-waste criteria for paper based on the EN 643 standard list of recovered paper grades to incentivise quality while boosting Europe’s internal market

•Eco-design to ensure that paper can be recovered in all products once they reach end-of-life and phase out products that cannot be recycled.

•Substantially increasing, whenever technically and legally feasible, the financial contributions to companies involved in the collection and recovery of waste paper falling under EPR Schemes.

•            Measures and incentives to boost the demand for products containing recycled paper fibres.

•Investments in digitalisation, such as block chain technologies, to tackle illegal exporting and give a competitive market to European recycling companies in intra- and extra-EU trade of secondary raw materials.

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