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Paper sector offsets demand to cope with China’s import deadline

Following China’s announcement that it is striving for ‘zero waste imports’ by the end of the year, its annual purchase of recovered fibre from overseas has fallen from 26-29 million tonnes in the three years to 2017 to just 11 million tonnes in 2019.

And the nation will import only an estimated five million tonnes this year, Ranjit Singh Baxi of UK-based J&H Sales International told a webinar of the Bureau of Recycling Industries (BIR). He argues this slump in imports offers opportunities to the recycling sector. ‘It has allowed the industry to try to reposition itself in newer markets, finding newer outlets.’

Global fibre markets have indeed made progress in ‘offsetting’ the loss of orders from China, observes BIR paper division president Jean-Luc Petithuguenin of Paprec. He cites new capacities in Europe with fibre exported to a longer list of countries and in larger quantities.

Speakers generally agreed that Turkey remains a ‘promising market’ although the country’s recent decision to limit paper recyclers’ fibre imports to a maximum of 50% of their production capacity – from 80% previously – is curbing momentum. Baxi believes other countries will adopt similar measures to protect domestic industries and reduce import bills.

BIR paper division vice president Francisco Donoso of Alba Servicios Verdes complained of huge volatility in the price of recovered fibre. He said this was caused mostly by ‘panic’ among mills afraid of running out of material or ‘paying more money than necessary’ for their supplies.

Innovative technology provides a silver lining. For example, chromatogeny, which involves the chemical modification of a cellulosic compound to create a water-repellent barrier, has significant potential in the packaging industry. Another interesting development is MFC wet lamination whereby a layer of micro-fibrillated cellulose is applied to a paper/board surface to act as a barrier against oil, contaminants and oxygen.

These solutions were presented by Gilles Lénon, managing director of the Centre Technique du Papier (CTP) in France. He said these new technologies meet all specifications in recyclability and biodegradability when applied to the paper cup market.

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