BIR Global eForum: Considering the future of recovered paper markets
Panelists on BIR's Global eForum on paper markets expressed mixed feelings about the future for recovered paper markets.
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BIR Global eForum: Considering the future of recovered paper markets

Panelists on a BIR webinar expressed concerns for the future of recovered paper markets around the globe.

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June 18, 2020

During the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling’s (BIR’s) Global eForum on paper markets June 16, panelists expressed mixed feelings about the future for recovered paper markets. 

Jean-Luc Petithuguenin, BIR Paper Division president and CEO of France-based Paprec, said he is “very optimistic” about the future of paper recycling. He said there are opportunities for more recovered paper to be used in packaging applications, adding that plastics are being challenged as a packaging option.

“We will see packaging and many other products switching from plastic to, for example, paper,” he said during the webinar. 

On the other hand, Keith Trower of U.K.-based Viridor Resource Management was a bit less optimistic on the outlook for recovered paper markets. Trower said he is a little concerned about the economic feasibility of recycling with very low prices for recovered paper. 

BIR General Delegate Sébastien Ricard of Paprec provided some positive figures for recovered paper in a presentation that featured data on worldwide recovered fiber production in 2018. According to that data, Ricard said more than half of all paper and board produced in the world is made from recovered fiber. Based on 2018 figures, he said 70 percent of all paper and board produced in Asia was made from recovered fiber. Additionally, 70 percent of all packaging produced in 2018 used recovered fiber. 

Dominique Maguin, past president of the BIR Paper Division and president of La Compagnie des Matières Premières in France, noted that these figures on recovered fiber incorporation in paper and board production are important for recyclers to consider, but he said he is a little more pessimistic on the future for recovered paper markets. While more than half of all paper production uses recovered fiber, Maguin said the amount of recovered paper generated in Europe is still higher than what it can actually consume. 

“Are we going to be able to export our recovered paper to foreign countries out of Europe? This is a very, very big problem for our industry because we have not had enough capacities to use all the recovered paper we are producing in Europe,” Maguin said. 

He added that the worldwide pandemic has exacerbated the challenge of finding homes for recovered paper. 

“The problem is that with this COVID-19 crisis, all the production worldwide has stopped,” Maguin said. “When you close down the factories producing cars, computers or something else, then you are killing the use of the cardboard to package this product. So, we are missing these tonnages, and we’re going to be missing these tonnages for some months. During the COVID-19 crisis, just in three months, we have lost something like 12 million tons of recovered fiber worldwide. Even if we are missing these tonnages, the prices are going down, which is a sign that this industry is not recovering so well from the crisis.” 

Panelists were also concerned about export markets for recovered paper, as China has announced plans to stop importing recovered paper altogether in 2021.

“This year, [China will] accept 6 million tons [of recovered paper] and at the moment, there is about 1.5 million tons of quota left for the year,” Trower said. 

“It’s very difficult to offset that lack of demand from China in the rest of the world,” added Francisco Donoso, managing director at Spain-based Alba Servicios Verdes. 

Some recovered paper exports have shifted from China to India and Indonesia, but Ranjit Baxi, BIR past president of U.K.-based J&H Sales International, said these two countries alone won’t be able to consume the same amount as China had in the past.

“There are no new capacities in India and [the] same for Indonesia,” he said. “It ramped up—they imported a lot of mixed paper—but now, as everyone is finding, they are redefining mixed paper. Their volumes were going down and will go down.

“We have to develop sustainable markets for our products,” he concluded. “We have to work together. We cannot do without exporting our surplus recovered fiber.”