Paper waste exporters worldwide now have to shift their supply chains as China, a critical global processor of recovered paper, banned solid waste imports in 2021. Countries with insufficient domestic paper processing capacity will now have to develop these facilities in line with the current global trend towards the circular economy.
Key trends and insights
Paper recycling worldwide is increasing robustly. According to the European Paper Recycling Council, paper recycling in the EU reached 72% in 2019. The US attained a record recycling performance indicator of 68.2% in 2018; this figure then started to drop to 65.7% in 2020, following a decline in the volume of American waste paper processed abroad. Despite the rise in paper recycling facilities in the US, the country has not yet overcome its shortage of reprocessing plants.
In 2020, global imports of waste and scrap of paper and paperboard declined by 15% against the previous year (IndexBox estimates). This decline was primarily due to China’s systematic curb of paper waste imports, an initiative aimed at improving the country’s environmental situation.
Since 1 January 2021, a complete ban has been in force by China regarding solid waste imports for recycling. This ban also includes all paper waste. Indonesia has also announced similar plans to curb waste imports. As a result, the EU and the US now need to rearrange supply chains in paper recycling.
India, Vietnam, and Malaysia to increase waste paper import
With approximately US$ 1.7 billion of imported paper waste, China accounted for about 29% of the recycling of global waste and scrap paper and paperboard before 2021. Now, this market share is to be captured by other actors. India, Vietnam, and Malaysia, among others, have started to increase the volume of imported paper waste, thereby partially sustaining the global recycling balance.
The recycling of paper and cardboard is expected to increase worldwide, in line with the global shift to a circular economy. Therefore, a decline in the worldwide export and import of waste paper products is equally forecast against increasingly stringent environmental standards in particular countries. As a result, the key exporters of paper waste, such as the US, the UK, and Japan, will now be forced to develop their paper and cardboard recycling capacity.
Recovered paper imports by country
In 2020, global recovered paper imports decreased by 10.5% to 38 million tons, falling for the fourth year in a row. In value terms, recovered paper imports contracted by approximately 15%.
In value terms, China (US $ 27.7 billion) led the market by far. The second position in the ranking was occupied by the US (US$ 5.4 billion). It was followed by Japan.
In 2020, China (9 million tons), distantly followed by Germany (4.3 million tons), Indonesia (2.8 million tons), the Netherlands (2.7 million tons), and India (2 million tons) were the leading importers of recovered paper, together making up 54% of total imports. On the other hand, Mexico (1.6 million tons), Taiwan (Chinese) (1.4 million tons), Austria (1.3 million tons), Thailand (1.2 million tons), Turkey (1.2 million tons), South Korea (1.2 million tons), Canada (0.8 million tons), and France (0.8 million tons) occupied a minor share of total imports.
India pays US$ 156 per ton for imported paper waste
In 2020, the average recovered paper import price amounted to US$ 156 per ton (approximately Rs 11.39 per kilogram), which is 5% lower than in the previous year. However, prices varied noticeably by the country of destination; the country with the highest cost was India (US$ 201 per ton – Rs 14.67 per kilogram), while the Netherlands (US$ 106 per ton) was amongst the lowest.