Fibre markets continue to adapt ahead of China’s Zero Imports deadline

The global recovered fibre market has been undergoing a transformation in the last two to three years as new outlets are sought for material that, in many previous instances, would have headed to China. At a BIR Paper Division webinar on October 14 moderated by its General Delegate, Sébastien Ricard of France-based Paprec, participants provided a status report on the market supply/demand balance as well as an insight into technical innovations that could provide a further boost to the industry.

Following China’s announcement that it would be striving for zero solid waste imports by the end of this year, the country’s annual overseas purchases of recovered fibre have dwindled from between 26 million and 29 million tonnes in the three years to 2017 to just 19 million tonnes in 2018 and 11 million tonnes in 2019, with a total of 5 million tonnes projected for 2020, according to divisional Past President Ranjit Singh Baxi of UK-based J&H Sales International.

This staged reduction in imports over a period of three years had been beneficial to the recycling sector, argued Mr Baxi, because “it has allowed the industry to try to reposition itself in newer markets, finding newer outlets”. BIR Paper Division President Jean-Luc Petithuguenin, also of Paprec, agreed that markets had made great strides towards offsetting the loss of orders from China, including through new capacities in Europe as well as through fibre exports being dispatched to a broader range of countries and in larger quantities.

Turkey remained a promising market, it was noted by several speakers, despite its recent decision to limit paper recyclers’ fibre imports to a maximum of 50% of their production capacity, as compared to 80% previously. Mr Baxi predicted that other countries would adopt similar measures to protect domestic industries/collection programmes and to reduce import bills.

For his part, divisional Vice President Francisco Donoso of Spain-based Alba Servicios Verdes still considered that the steep reduction in Chinese recovered fibre orders was having a significant, negative effect on business. He also complained of huge recovered fibre price volatility, attributing this to panic among some mills when afraid either of running out of material or of paying more money than necessary for their supplies.

“We still have a lot of volatility in front of us,” contended divisional Vice President Martin Leander of Stena Metall International AB of Sweden. However, he also expressed excitement at the “many possibilities” opening up for the paper sector.

Some of the latest research aimed at developing new market outlets for paper was outlined by the BIR Paper Division’s guest speakers Gilles Lénon, Managing Director of the Centre Technique du Papier (CTP) in France and Fabienne Vercelli, CTP’s Director of Customers Relations. Their focus was on two emerging technologies with potential in the packaging sector – chromatogeny, involving the chemical modification of a cellulosic compound to create a water-repellent barrier and MFC wet lamination whereby a layer of micro-fibrillated cellulose is applied to a paper/board surface to act as a barrier against oil, contaminants and oxygen. Using the paper cup market as an example, Ms Vercelli pointed out that both technologies “were able to reach all specifications in terms of recyclability and biodegradability”. In all its research, she emphasised, CTP sought to ensure that its technologies required no changes to be made to existing recycling processes. Having noted that CTP worked closely with papermakers, Ms Vercelli confirmed that a chromatogeny-based machine had already been built and that a second was under discussion.

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