Mission: possible (despite the virus)


The European Paper Recycling Council (EPRC) recently released its 2019 monitoring report, that summarises the goals that the industry has achieved in terms of reuse, given the 74% paper recycling rate target established for 2020. The news is that Covid-19 wasn’t able to stop innovation

With a dedicated webinar and an online press conference the European Paper Recycling Council, of which the Confederation of European Paper Industries or Cepi is also a member, presented the most updated figures about paper and board collection and recycling both in the EU and worldwide. These figures are included in its recently published 2019 monitoring report too. The main topic of the debate was whether the sector will prove able, or not, to reach the ambitious target of a 74% paper recycling rate by the end of this year, as previously announced. So far, the industry showed strong and innovative enough to obtain interesting results, and future perspectives are, therefore, encouraging. Efforts must continue, but the good news is that the Covid-19 pandemic, albeit dramatic, hasn’t affected innovation: thus, collection and recycling activities still had a positive performance.

The decline of exports, the rise of Europe

Ulrich Leberle, EPRC secretary and Cepi Raw Materials Director, underlined that the 2019 paper recycling rate was as high as 72%, therefore not too far from the 74% target, thanks to the collection and reuse of as much as 57 million tonnes of material in Europe alone. This means that, if compared to figures recorded back in 1998, 17.5 more tonnes of board and paper were addressed to recycling, within the European Union. It is also worth to notice that, as Ulrich Leberle pointed out, 88% of recycling activities take place in Europe, whereas a mere 12% of material is exported and treated outside the EU borders. As for the fresh fibre-recycled materials balance, the EPRC secretary and Cepi Raw Materials Director stated that 54% of paper today comes from recycling. If on the one hand recycling is increasing, on the other paper consumption is declining, whereas collection is, in Leberle’s on words, rather stable. His opinion is that, although many factors and events could still impact the global framework and influence estimates, «the industry has a fair chance to get into a corridor around 74% by the end of this year, despite it is still challenging to reach our targets». Leberle recalled the recycling performance of the paper and board industry with already 84.6% of paper and board being recycled today, which is more than all other packaging materials (metal, glass, plastic). He also emphasized that recycling inside Europe is increasing, keeping the fibres in the loop in Europe from consumption to recycling. Ulrich Leberle commented that Europe’s trading partners for paper for recycling are changing, as China’s imports are declining while India, Indonesia and Malaysia are today compensating and representing a smaller portion of these imports.

Don’t stop the flow

Finally, he mentioned that packaging is and will remain at the center of the Green Deal discussions especially with the expected Circular Economy Action Plan and Sustainable Products Initiative next year. The European Paper Recycling Council and the Confederation of European Paper Industries are giving a strong contribution to the industry’s most innovative and critical developments by cooperating in the definition of a series of directives – contained in the Paper-based packaging recycling materials guidelines manual – concerning, just to name a few, the most suitable inks to be used and the easiest-recyclable materials. A further goal to meet, possibly the most ambitious, is that of a massive replacement of plastics, in the packaging arena. Technological progress is key, from this very point of view, as well as under the aspect of selecting the proper technologies to manage and treat the most difficult varieties of paper. This is what suggested by Angelika Christ, EPRC chair, who dubbed «fantastic» the figures presented by Ulrich Leberle and considered, afterwards: «There was a change in collection, the industrial collection suffered a slowdown, that private household collection could not completely counterbalance. We depend on the flow and on circular economy. This means the flow must not be interrupted, since in such segments as that of corrugated board it is no easy duty to switch from recycled paper to fresh fibres, for example. We are nevertheless determined to reach the goal of 74% and even more, if possible».

More education and training needed

Regarding the Covid-19 impact on the paper and board industry in 2020, paper and board production declined but to more favourable rate (-3.2 %,) than what most other manufacturing industries experienced, showing that the Covid-19 impact on paper & board industry was less pronounced than in other manufacturing sectors due to intrinsic resilience of the sector, and for paper & board packaging, manufacturing even grew by 10% over the first quarter of 2020. Other areas, such as graphics, underwent a number of criticalities and fell by a 20% rate, especially due to difficulties and a slowdown in collection. During the webinar, Angelika Christ highlighted the importance of recycling being a matter of innovation and education, by mentioning the latest EPRC Pro Carton 2020 Carton E-vent & Awards award winner, a European-wide educational program aimed at children primarily aged between eight and 11 years and entitled TICCIT (Trees Into Cartons, Cartons Into Trees). Finally, during the Q&A discussion, participants discussed the impact of the Chinese waste ban on the European recycling market, the share of recycled fibres coming from each source (households, commerce/industry, office), the impact of the closures of some sorting centres during the Covid-19 lockdown, earlier in 2020, and the influence of e-commerce on paper, for recycling availability.

Who’s who/part one: the EPRC

The European Paper Recycling Council (EPRC) was set up as an industry self-initiative in November 2000 to monitor progress towards meeting the paper recycling targets set out in the 2000 European Declaration on Paper Recycling. Since then the commitments in the Declaration are renewed every five years. In 2017 the EPRC committed itself to meeting and maintaining both a voluntary recycling rate target of 74% in the EU27 plus Switzerland and Norway by 2020 as well as qualitative targets in areas such as waste prevention, ecodesign and research and development. In 2017, Members of the ERPC are ACE, CEPI, CITPA, EMFA, ETS, FEPE, INGEDE and INTERGRAF. Supporters are Afera, EuPIA, FINAT, FEICA and RadTECH Europe. DG Environment and DG Grow of the European Commission are permanent observers to the EPRC.

Who’s who/part two: TICCIT and Pro Carton

TICCIT is an outreach and educational program for school-aged children that highlights the renewability and sustainability of paper and paperboard packaging. The program teaches students that trees are a sustainable crop just like fruits and veggies, highlights the many uses for trees and paper, and underscores the importance of recycling Its main goals are to teach and inspire, therefore to Educate the next generation about the sustainability of paperboard packaging. Then, to engage teams and communities by building connections within groups and ignite communities with purpose. Finally, the target is that to make a real and concrete difference by highlighting the many possible uses of trees and paper, and aiming to plant a higher number of trees in each community. Member companies of the Paperboard Packaging Council or PPC and other local businesses are all invited to host a TICCIT Program in your community. Engage your employees, build connections with your team, and teach the next generation about the importance of sustainable packaging, trees, recycling, and the circular economy. Free support materials are also available for download to get started. Pro Carton is the European Association of Carton and Cartonboard manufacturers. Its main purpose is to promote the use of cartons and cartonboard to brand owners, the trade as well as designers, media and politicians as an economically and ecologically balanced packaging medium.