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European paper industry delivers on emission reduction and recycling commitments

The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) has announced that 62.2 per cent of the industry’s fuel consumption in 2020 was based on renewable energy.

Fuel was largely derived from woody biomass from sustainably managed European forests. CEPI also announced that specific CO2 emissions (per tonne of product) had further decreased in 2020 by 3.1 per cent.

A stack of paper, with orange, blue, yellow, pink, green, and purple pieces.European paper and board consumption decreased by 5.3 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, totalling 71 million tonnes, with this change largely attributed to the slowing down of the European economy and sanctuary restrictions during the pandemic.

CEPI members produced 85.2 million tonnes of paper and board in 2020, a decrease of 4.8 per cent compared to 2019. This downward trend was also observed in other countries, such as the USA, Japan, Brazil and Canada.

As a result, pulp consumption decreased by 6.4 per cent, with total pulp production decreasing by 4.7 per cent. Market pulp output, however, remained unchanged.

Despite the obstacles presented by the pandemic, most mills ran without disruption in 2020, with some operating at reduced speed due to lower levels of demand.

The pandemic accelerated the structural decline of graphic grades, with overall output falling by 19 per cent, likely due to decreased demand from publishers, offices and commercial printing.

However, the production of packaging paper and board as well as sanitary and household paper rose by 2.1 per cent and 3.1 per cent respectively in 2020, with specialty paper and board production remaining stable.

These categories benefited from the acceleration of e-commerce in the wake of the pandemic, with packaging paper and board being essential materials in the transportation and delivery of supplies such as medicine or food.

Demand for sanitary and household grades also benefited from higher hygiene requirements during the pandemic.

Net exports experienced a minor decrease, but still remained fairly stable. Market pulp exports grew by 2.8 per cent, whilst paper and board exports decreased by 3.1 per cent, a lower extent than production and imports (-4.5 per cent).

Combining market pulp and paper and board grades, CEPI’s share of production going for export reached 26 per cent in 2020.

Despite the pandemic’s impact on the availability and quality of paper for recycling throughout 2020, the European recycling rate increased by 1.4 percentage points, reaching 73.9 per cent.

This marks an increase of 40 per cent, or 16 million tonnes, since 1998, the base year for the first voluntary commitment set in the European Declaration on Paper Recycling.

CO2 direct emissions from the European paper industry also declined by 7.1 per cent in 2020, largely due to reduced activity, but also efforts made by the industry to decarbonise.

In November of last year, CEPI announced its decarbonisation manifesto for the paper sector, with a headline target of 2030.

The plan included three main areas for decarbonisation: product substitution, bio-based product markets, and sustainable forest management.

This followed the 2019 formation of ‘4evergreen’, an industry alliance set up by CEPI to drive the use of fibre-based packaging.

Jori Rigman, CEPI Director General, said: “I am proud to announce today that our investments in reducing emissions and using more renewable energy are paying off, with a 7.1 per cent reduction of our CO2 direct emissions last year.

“We continue to lead among industries switching to renewable energy, renewables represented 62.2 per cent of our primary energy in 2020.

“Our climate commitment is even more important this year, just days ahead of the European Commission’s “Fit for 2030” package. It will radically revamp the regulatory framework to achieve higher emission reductions by 2030.”

Looking ahead, CEPI expects the demand for paper and board to benefit from the economic rebound forecast for 2021. The EU economy is estimated to grow by 4.2 per cent this year, and to strengthen to around 4.4 per cent in 2022, according to the European Commission.

As of the end of April 2021, the production of paper and board in CEPI countries increased by 1 per cent over the same period of the previous year.

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