European paper recycling in crisis warns ERPA

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European paper recycling organisation ERPA has warned that the sector is currently in crisis with an increasing number of recovered paper companies ceasing to operate temporarily or permanently.

ERPA, which is a branch of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC), has warned that European paper recycling companies face major regulatory and economic obstacles that hamper recycling and threaten their business activities.

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With recycling rates of 71.5% for European paper in 2018, the is a gap of over 8 million tonnes between supply and demand. For the last ten years, there has been a structural gap of between 7 to 9 million tonnes. Until 2017, the majority of this excess capacity was exported to China.

Since the beginning of 2018 when China stopped importing mixed paper and reduced imports of other grades, and Malaysia and Indonesia outlining that they intend to follow suit, this excess capacity has found it increasingly difficult to find a home.

While EuRIC has supported measures by Asian countries to enhance environmental protection and ban the imports of recyclable waste, it said in a statement that “EuRIC has strongly condemned the decision taken to anchor import restrictions on levels of impurities, which are disproportionately low and discriminatory since no standardised method to measure them is in place, leaving operators in a constant state of legal uncertainty as to whether a shipment is or not compliant.”

This results in recyclers constantly facing inspections carried out on the basis of checks whose rules of compliance are largely unknown. This creates financial risks that shipments are rejected based on these unknown rules.

With the absence of 8 million tonnes of recovered paper end markets, prices for recovered paper have dropped by 300% from June 2017 to June 2019, according to ERPA.

To ensure no more businesses cease trading, finance local authorities from sales of paper and to ensure it continues to be a part of the circular economy, ERPA wants stronger actions by European and national authorities to prevent the implementation of trade restrictions.

It is also calling for EU-wide end-of-waste criteria for paper based on the EN643 standard.

Other measures it is requesting include:

  • Eco-design of products
  • Increase financial contributions to companies collecting and recycling paper under extended producer responsibility
  • Incentives to boost the demand of recycled paper
  • Investments in digitalisation such as block chain technologies to assist in the elimination of illegal exports.

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