BIR Convention: Export critical for European scrap paper

Europe has a surplus of 7 million to 8 million metric tons per year of scrap paper that needs to find homes in export markets.

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Export of recovered paper grades, collection programs and freight-related issues were major concerns discussed during the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling’s (BIR) Paper Division meeting, which took place online June 2 during the BIR World Recycling Convention.

The session included several panelists from the paper recycling space, including BIR Paper Division President Jean-Luc Petithuguenin of France-based Paprec; Dominique Maguin, past president of BIR and co-founder of the European Recycling Industries' Confederation (EuRIC); EuRIC Senior Policy Officer Julia Blees; Francisco Donoso of Alba Servicios Verdes in Spain; BIR Past President Ranjit Baxi of U.K.-based J&H Sales International; and Martin Palmer of Stena Group.

Severe restrictions on recovered paper exports from Europe to the rest of the world would be “a very big mistake,” according to Petithuguenin. During the panel discussion, Maguin shared Petithuguenin’s view. He said tighter export restrictions would be counterproductive.

EuRIC’s Blees said the European Commission “knows how important recycling is to reach all their goals” related to a circular economy and climate neutrality. However, she said, the commission is also intent on seeking a revision of waste shipment regulations that could streamline intra-European Union movements and also restrict exports beyond Europe, with its draft proposal expected to be published by the fall of 2021.

Blees said Europe has a surplus of recovered fiber at 7 million to 8 million metric tons per year. As a result, she said, exports are “really, really crucial” for the scrap paper industry in Europe. Blees said the European Commission’s proposals have allowed for overseas shipments to continue if exporters are able to prove that receiving facilities in other countries are operating under “broadly equivalent conditions” to those in Europe regarding environmental protection and human health. She said one way this can be achieved is through third-party auditing systems.

Blees also identified harmonized end-of-waste status for recovered paper as important to the industry.

“Bearing in mind that several European countries have already enacted it or are in the process of enacting it, it would very much make sense to have a European end-of-waste for the recovered paper sector,” she added.

Maguin also underlined the importance of pursuing end-of-waste status. He said the industry also should remove the “waste” tag from recycling industry products and communications because the term “waste” does not accurately identify scrap paper products that have value and are destined for use as raw materials.

In the panel discussion, Donoso of Alba Servicios Verdes said he agrees that the end-of-waste status needed to be harmonized throughout Europe.

One challenge facing scrap paper commodities in Europe is various collection systems. Baxi of U.K.-based J&H Sales International said there are significant differences in recycling collection programs across Europe. He said harmonization of these programs across different countries should be required to help the industry achieve a more standardized product for export markets.

Baxi added that banning or heavily restricting scrap paper exports could have cost implications for Europe and make it even cheaper for mills in Europe to import paper from Asia instead. “A lot of new markets are coming up and we need to move our recovered paper to those markets,” he said. “So don’t make international trade or exports more complicated by unnecessary regulation.”

Taking a similar view, Palmer of Stena Group urged regulators to “let the market work as freely as possible.”

Regarding current market conditions for scrap paper in Europe, Baxi said freight costs have risen three to four times higher than they were 18 months ago. He said this has made trading business “very, very difficult.” He said he expects freight-related challenges could normalize during the course of 2022 if pandemic-related issues ease.