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Extract BIR Annual Report 2023

The ebb and flow of a life in recycling

2023 provided yet another lesson on our steep learning curve about coping with adversity. 

The previous year had brought an abrupt change of momentum after positive early demand for recovered fibre was suddenly replaced by lower orders as mills were hit with the double-whammy of high energy costs and reduced demand for their finished products owing to spiralling interest rates. The difference in 2023 was that the year was challenging from the outset and remained that way for the entire 12 months, thereby testing our industry’s renowned adaptability and resilience.

On the commercial front, collection volumes were under pressure and demand from our mill customers was short of what many of us would have wished. Even in the USA, where OCC and mixed paper prices were on a rising trend for most of 2023, the upturn was largely driven not by increased demand from the mills but by buyers’ nervousness over fibre availability. 

So what of exports to Asia? China has been fighting its own battle with low consumption and a lack of orders for finished products. But long gone are the days when large parts of the world relied so heavily on China to absorb recovered fibre surpluses. India and Indonesia, among others, have become key Asian outlets for Europe’s exports – but even this steady business was to suffer a jolt in late 2023 following the launching of attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea region. Import procurement plans for many buyers in Asia had to be thrown out of the window while suppliers in Europe and the USA were faced with diverted vessels, significantly longer transit times and huge increases in freight costs, not to mention risks of cancelled orders and revoked vessel space bookings. 

There were suggestions from some quarters that the freight rate increases and surcharges imposed in response to the attacks were at best opaque and at worst excessive. What can be said with certainty is that our industry always remains vulnerable to geopolitical and commercial forces beyond our control – even though our industry is regularly lauded as the spearhead of the circular economy.

It cannot be repeated too often that free and fair trade in recovered fibre is the lifeblood of our environmentally-essential industry. Our two meetings at BIR Conventions in 2023 served not only to underline this point but also to stress how international flows have been changing in recent times, not least because of China’s altered import rules. 

In Amsterdam last May, CellMark’s John Atehortua focused on the adaptability of US OCC exporters. Having shipped more than 50% of their volumes to China as recently as 2018, the biggest overseas buyers in 2022 were India, Thailand and Indonesia. And Simone Scaramuzzi of LCI Lavorazione Carta Riciclata Italiana Srl noted that China had been replaced as the leading buyer of European recovered fibre by Indonesia, India and Turkey, with total volumes shipped from Europe to Asia actually increasing 12% in 2022. 

At our gathering in Abu Dhabi last October, our esteemed former President Ranjit Singh Baxi highlighted the massive growth potential in India where a surge in domestic mill production capacity from 14 million tonnes at present to more than 20 million tonnes by the end of the decade will be fuelled largely by recovered fibre, on which three-quarters of India’s producers currently rely. The country’s imports already amount to some 12 million tonnes per year, once again underscoring the importance of free and fair international trade to a successful circular economy transition.

In terms of flows, South East Asia is still a powerful magnet for recovered fibre surpluses generated elsewhere in the world. According to last October’s presentation by Atul Kaul of Waraq in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s annual recycled containerboard production of 4 million tonnes creates an ongoing requirement for quality fibre, and yet volumes are still being pulled from the region towards South East Asia.

Understanding material flows and their many shifts is crucial for any business reliant on exports, thus emphasizing yet again the value of our twice-yearly gatherings and the expert presentations they attract. Their “not-to-be-missed” tag is well-earned.

“It cannot be repeated too often that free and fair trade in recovered fibre is the lifeblood of our environmentally-essential industry.”

Francisco J. Donoso

DOLAF Servicios Verdes S.L. (ESP)
PRESIDENT PAPER DIVISION
Infography

IMPORTANT FACTS

Made from vegetable fibres called cellulose, paper as we know it today was first created in China more than 2000 years ago. Since the advent of the printing press in the 15th century, its use has spread across all continents to the extent that, currently, it is hard to imagine the world without this versatile material. Around 420 million tonnes of paper and cardboard are produced worldwide every year, with well over half of the raw material coming from recovered sources.

Some 50-60% of recovered paper comes from industry and business. This includes paper trimmings, cuttings and shavings from manufacturers and converters, as well as goods discarded before they reach the consumer, such as unsold newspapers and magazines. The remaining recovered fibre comes from households.

THE NEED FOR FREE TRADE

Recovered fibre collections in, notably, North America and Europe easily exceed local consumption needs and so overseas trade has become a major component of this market. But despite the environmental, social and economic advantages of the worldwide trade in recovered paper, flows have been disrupted over recent years. China established itself as the leading importer of recovered fibre, buying around 30 million tonnes per annum from overseas suppliers at one stage. However, the Chinese government has recently imposed more stringent import rules, with the result that overseas purchases are believed to have declined below 10 million tonnes in 2019 and are expected to drop still further.

Similarly restrictive import measures have also been introduced by other countries in Asia which had been leading buyers of surplus material from Europe, thus impacting the global market and creating widespread concern over the diminishing outlets for the world’s excess volumes because of a move away from the free trade principles supported by BIR.

STATISTICS

Paper and Board recycling in 2020

Paper and Board recycling in 2020

pdf English 2019 issue

pdf English 2018 issue

pdf English 2013 issue

pdf English 2012 issue

pdf English 2011 issue

RECYCLING PROCESSES

SORTING

BALING

SHREDDING

According to industry estimates, paper can be recycled anywhere from 3 to 8 times. Each time recycling occurs, the fibres become shorter and weaker, and virgin pulp must be introduced into paper production to maintain the strength and quality of the fibre. Through this process, recovered paper and forest-based products complement each other ecologically and economically.

The recycling of paper follows a series of steps which may vary depending on the type of paper and its degree of deterioration.

Sorting: Paper products must be separated according to their composition and degree of deterioration. Different types of paper can sometimes be mixed. Others, such as paperboard, are recycled using a single-grade process, meaning that no other type of paper can be mixed in during its processing.

Baling: Large quantities of paper are packed using hydraulic machines which apply enormous pressure to compact recovered paper into blocks that are easier and more cost-effective to transport.

Shredding: Recovered fibre is shredded into smaller pieces and mixed with water to make pulp.

Washing: The pulp is washed, refined and cleaned, then turned into a slush that undergoes filtering through screens and other separation processes to remove contaminants such as ink, clay, dirt, plastic and metals. Dyes, coatings and other additives can be introduced during this process. Water is continuously drained and cleaned for reuse.

Bleaching: In order to whiten paper, the pulp can be bleached using hydrogen peroxide and chlorine.

Pressing: The resulting paper sheet, known as “web”, is pressed between massive rollers to extract as much of the remaining water as possible and to ensure uniform smoothness and thickness. The semi-dry web is then run through heated dryer rollers to remove any remaining water.

Rolling: The finished paper is processed into large rolls ready to be manufactured again into new consumer products.

SPECIAL PROCESSES

In some instances, ink is not removed from the recovered paper but instead is dispersed into the pulp, giving the recycled paper a greyish tint. If the ink is to be removed, there are two different methods which can be used:

Washing: As the paper is pulped, chemicals can be added to separate the ink from the paper and allow it to be washed away with large amounts of water.

Flotation: Air can be passed through the pulp, producing foam that absorbs at least half of the ink, which can then be skimmed off.

RECYCLING FACTS

  • Recycling a single tonne of paper saves 4100 kWh of energy, 1720 litres of oil, approaching 32,000 litres of water and an average of 17 trees, while preventing the emission of 27 kg of air pollutants.
  • Burning that same tonne of paper would generate about 750 kg of carbon dioxide.
  • Recycling cardboard requires only 75% of the energy required to make new cardboard.
  • The European Paper Recycling Council reports an increase in the continent’s paper recycling rate from 69% in 2010 to 72.4% by 2017. The aim is to achieve 74% by 2020.
  • According to the American Forest & Paper Association, the overall US paper recovery rate registered an all-time high of 68.1% in 2018.

TEN QUESTIONS ABOUT PAPER RECOVERY AND RECYCLING

Why recycle?

Recovered paper is a valuable raw material that can be reused to create new paper and board products. Paper recovery is preferable to landfill or incineration for energy recovery.

What can be recycled?

Almost any household paper can be recycled, including used newspapers, cardboard, packaging, stationery, “direct mail”, magazines, catalogues, greetings cards and wrapping paper. It is important that these papers are kept separate from other household waste, as contaminated papers are not acceptable for recycling.

Why can’t there be a 100% recycling rate?

Some paper products are not collectable and/or recyclable. The share of such paper products - which comprise, for example, cigarette papers, wallpaper, tissue papers and archives - is estimated at 15-20% of total paper consumption. Furthermore, it might not be economically or environmentally sound to collect and recycle all fibres that are theoretically available because of heavy transportation costs.

How many times can paper be recycled?

Depending somewhat on the paper grade, it can be recycled 3 to 8 times.

Would it be possible to use only recovered paper in paper production?

Basically all paper grades can be produced based entirely on recovered paper. However, paper cannot be recycled endlessly and so the system requires a constant injection of virgin fibres.

Is it possible to mix recovered and virgin fibres?

Yes it is, and this is done on a broad basis. Obviously, most paper products can be produced using only recovered or virgin fibres, but it is also possible to use both at the same time.

How is used paper collected?

The method of collecting recovered paper depends on its source. From large industrial and commercial sources, the volumes are so high that they have dedicated collection equipment. For households, recyclable materials such as paper and board packaging, plastics packaging, etc. are collected together; in other cases, single-stream collections are undertaken.

How can the public contribute to increased paper recycling rates?

The most important contribution is to ensure used paper is made available for collection via whatever local system is in place, keeping it separate from contamination such as food waste which could render it unsuitable for recycling.

Does recycling save trees?

Paper recycling contributes to sustainable development as natural resources are used in an efficient way. Consigning paper to landfills would be an utter waste of a valuable resource. Recycling of fibres allows for a more responsible way of managing soil and forests as trees can store more carbon dioxide for longer. It has been calculated that the recycling of a single tonne of paper saves 17 trees on average.

What are the sources of recovered paper?

The biggest source of recovered paper is formed by industry and businesses (50-60%). This also covers converting losses (cuttings, shavings) and returns of unsold newspapers and magazines. The remaining recovered paper comes from households.

Divisional Board

President

Francisco Donoso

DOLAF Servicios Verdes S.L. (ESP)
General Delegate

Fátima Aparicio

REPACAR (ESP)

Ranjit S. Baxi

J & H Sales International Ltd. (GBR)

Marc Ehrlich

VIPA Lausanne SA (CHE)

Martin Leander

Stena Recycling (SWE)

Dominique Maguin

La Compagnie des Matières Premières (FRA)

Simone Scaramuzzi

LCI SRL (ITA)