Green is all the rage, and policymakers around the world are including recycling as part of their carbon reduction strategies. However, paper mills in countries with a waste paper deficit may soon find themselves unable to help close the recycling loop if cross-border regulations prevent it.
Panelists who took part in a panel discussion at the International Recycling Week online event at the end of June expressed their understanding that there are benefits of consuming recyclable materials closer to home. As Marc Ehrlich of Vipa Group, based in Switzerland, however commented: “When you want to restrict the movement of a commodity [you] have people who lose from this constraint.
Panelists were particularly concerned about possible action by the European Commission to restrict the export of waste (including paper and metal) under the waste regulations of the Basel Convention. “The Basel Convention will classify recovered paper as waste, but we, experts in this field [believe] totally the opposite of that. We believe this is a recyclable material, with specifications, ”said Ehrlich.
“If every country were to restrict the export of materials, it can be a boon for many countries, but it would also be a curse for others,” noted Vikas Mahajan of Mahajan Recycled Resources. The India-based recycler and trader said when China cut access to recovered fiber in early 2021, paper prices [there] “I pulled up to $ 600 a tonne, until they started getting recycled content pulp from other countries, and then it went down to $ 200.”
Ehrlich said restricting exports to Europe will lower scrap paper prices, and gave this summary identifying the winners and losers: [with] the rest of the world. On the other hand, you have people who lose from this constraint. In this area, the losers are the municipalities which will have to pay much more subsidy for the collection of recycling and recycled paper. You have the taxpayer; we will have to pay more to support [recycling]. And at the end of the day, all of this will subsidize the paper mills that are located in the “right” place. “
“We cannot rely on old supply chains and old assumptions,” added panel moderator Wade Schuetzeberg of Netherlands-based Way Forward Enterprises BV. He said China started “thinking about this direction 15 years ago. They can and do live without imported fiber. Markets are very adaptive. To meet new demands for recovered fiber, we must also learn from ourselves. adapt.”
Ehrlich also expressed reservations about the volume of new containerboard capacities put into service in Europe and North America. “It seems like every morning a stationery owner has a great idea, which is to convert graphic paper or newsprint capacity into cardboard packaging capacity,” he said.
“The first owner who had this idea, it was a brilliant idea,” continued Ehrlich. “Now that we are about 200 paper mills down the road, I wonder if there will not be a surplus of capacity in Europe and the United States very soon.”
Sami Al Safran, CEO of Saudi Arabia-based containerboard producer MEPCO, said consuming scrap paper closer to where it is produced is a laudable environmental and ecological goal, and his company is pursuing it in the South Africa region. Middle East. He added, however, “The challenge is the balance between supply and demand.” Regarding the surplus fiber recovered in Europe or North America, “Should it go to the trading network or to the landfill?” He asked.
Mahajan said India (including his company) is working to increase its own collection of scrap paper. However, “Today, in 2021, we have [at least 11 paper] machines coming online in India. Where will they get the fiber from? They will have to keep a balance between domestic imports and imports. “
The quality of recovered fiber appears to be improving globally, in part because countries have imposed and enforce standards for the export and import of contaminants, the panelists said.
Each country has its standards, Mahajan said, and “factories overseas are working to reduce non-recyclable content.” He said the current high prices for recovered fiber benefit the quality of the materials. “All [sorting] step has a cost. So at $ 50 [per ton] it was a losing proposition for a sorter. Today, when we talk about more than $ 200 per tonne, that cost allows a sorter to take out non-recyclable content and export in volume. Nobody wants a container to be diverted at the port, he added.
The high prices started as COVID-19 caused retailers to lose sales and door-to-door deliveries, sparking another topic of conversation for the panel. The situation “created a big stress on supply” in 2020, Safran said, with even old corrugated cardboard (OCC) containers sometimes heading to landfills.
“We have to go back to education to educate people to recycle better at home, otherwise a lot of material will go to landfill,” Ehrlich said. He warned that such an education “takes five to ten years to [create and maintain] better habits. “
International Recycling Week was organized by the United Arab Emirates-based company Waste & Recycling Middle East & Africa magazine.