During the most recent Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) Paper Division meeting May 23, the committee was told major international flows of recovered fiber were under serious threat from proposed changes to European Union waste shipment legislation despite current figures underlining the pivotal role recovered fiber plays in the production of paper and paperboard globally.
Francisco Donoso of Spain-based Dolaf Servicios Verdes SL and divisional president of the committee, said worldwide consumption of recovered fiber in 2020 totaled more than 208 million metric tons, with 182 million metric tons absorbed by packaging alone—accounting for more than 70 percent of that sector's needs. The newsprint sector consumed approximately 64 percent of recovered fiber, while tissue's figures were near 17 percent and printing and writing around 10 percent.
Asian countries remained what Donoso called "keen customers" for Europe's substantial recovered fiber surplus, but he warned, "exports to Asia are going to be much more difficult than [they are] at the moment."
The committee's general delegate Manuel Dominguez of Repacar in Spain said the current draft of the EU Waste Shipment Regulation revision would require official confirmation from individual non-OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries that they want to import recovered fiber, and there also would need to be demonstrable proof that the receiving facility is able to treat the material in an environmentally sound manner.
He explained that even with shipments to OECD members, a sharp increase in recovered fiber flows to any particular country could lead to a suspension of shipments if there is no guarantee of sustainable treatment, and also suggested there is a "great risk of creating a captive market within the European countries," which could lead to lower prices, unless the revision draft undergoes significant modification.
Donoso pointed to the volatility of old corrugated container (OCC) prices in recent years and noted the recovered paper sector "had every right to feel exposed and a little nervous," but suggested hedging via futures contracts offers more stability and predictability.
The latest Paper Division meeting in Barcelona also saw the return of the Brussels-based BIR's Papyrus Award for outstanding contributions to the furtherance of recycling. Donoso announced the winner as Ecoembes, an organization based in Spain that aims to develop an integrated EPR system for domestic packaging.
The BIR convention was May 22-25.