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Paper recyclers: No future without exports

In six months China will close its doors to recovered fibre, challenging recyclers and traders around the globe to find new markets for their materials.

‘We have to develop sustainable markets for our products; we cannot do so without exporting our surplus recovered fibre,’ Ranjit Baxi of J&H Sales International in the UK told an online panel discussion hosted by the Bureau of International Recycling.

Paper recycling needs to be ‘supported and grown’, according to Baxi. Any increase in the landfilling or burning of this resource would be ‘a big blunder’ in terms of carbon footprint.

Panellists at the BIR eForum offered both pessimism and optimism in assessing the outlook and discussed a number of options that would help support the work of the paper recycling sector, including taxes and mandatory recycled content. Jean-Luc Petithuguenin of France-based Paprec was ‘very optimistic’ about the future of paper recycling. If the plastics industry did not address its ‘very weak’ performance in using recycled content, he said, ‘we will see packaging and many other products switching from plastic to, for example, paper’

Quality first

Keith Trower, of Viridor Resource Management in the UK, was concerned about the economics of recycling and the prospects for continued investment in the sector if prices remain low. However, he also insisted: ‘As long as we make the right quality, there should be a demand. Over the last three or four years, we have improved the quality significantly.’

According to Francisco Donoso of Spain-based Alba Servicios Verdes it would be very difficult to offset the lack of demand from China but an extension of end-of-waste status across Europe would enable recyclers ‘to open our business to other markets to which we can’t export now’.

Greater recycled content 

Despite the loss of 12 million tonnes of recovered fibre from the worldwide market this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, prices have been falling in June, lamented  Dominique Maguin of La Compagnie des Matières Premières in France. Without export outlets for the surpluses in Europe and elsewhere, he warned that prices were likely to collapse.

On a positive note, Maguin said that market statistics underlined the importance of the recycling sector. Out of the 420 million tonnes of paper and board produced globally in 2018, more than half incorporated recycled fibres. The trend was clearly towards greater recycled content, further legitimising the work of the sector, he stressed.

Towards 500 million tonnes?

At almost 110 million tonnes, Asia was responsible for 43% of world recovered paper production in 2018, followed by Europe on around 67 million tonnes and North America on 52 million tonnes. Baxi predicted that the world would be producing 500 million tonnes of paper and board by 2030 because of increased demand for packaging. Maguin said there had always been a correlation between population growth and demand for paper and board.

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