Resource Use

Digital age ‘challenges’ paper industry

The increase in electronic devices and online shopping are ‘presenting new challenges and opportunities to the recovered fibre sector’, waste management company DS Smith Recycling has said.

According to Jim Malone, Recycling European Sales & Purchasing Director at DS Smith, volumes of recovered paper are falling, but demand for paper is rising.

Speaking at the Profiting with Paper Recycling in Europe conference in Warsaw, Poland earlier this week, Malone pointed to figures from networking company Cisco, which suggest that the number of smart phones, tablets, laptops and internet capable phones now exceeds the global population of people. There were 35 million tablets in 2012, for instance, and this figure is expected to grow by 46 per cent year on year.

As such, Malone said that the face of the paper recycling industry was changing, as the growing number of people accessing newspapers, books, and magazines online, means there is less graphic paper entering the recovery process.

Further, as more people purchase goods online, the amount of packaging materials (such as corrugated paper) found in domestic recycling streams is increasing.

Challenges on quality

Malone said that the digital age was ‘changing the flow of fibre through the market’, with less graphic paper and more corrugated ‘ending its journey in the domestic recycling stream’.

He continued: “This presents new collection opportunities and challenges in harvesting this section of the fibre stream.

 “An important issue is that paper and packaging passing through the domestic channel often gets mixed with other recyclate and this creates new challenges on the quality front.”

DS Smith points to the fact that as demand for paper and board is expected to increase by 100 million tonnes over the next 14 years, much of this will focus on the packaging and tissue sectors.

The company warns that this could mean an overall drop in the quality of paper available for recycling. However, Malone suggested that the paper recycling industry could harvest more fibre for countried which have ‘less developed collection systems, such as those in Central and East European regions.

He added: “One concern is that while the overall European recycling rate has been increasing over the last 20 years the actual total volume available to collect has been in decline since 2007. But there is a real opportunity to use the models developed in countries with high recycling rates to boost recycling in countries with less developed collection systems.

“Increased global demand for fibre and the changing patterns of supply will impact on the paper recycling industry. Central and Eastern Europe provides good opportunities to increase recycling and we should work together to develop and implement an infrastructure appropriate to the needs of individual countries."

However, DS Smith said that there ‘still needs to be a high focus on quality to ensure fibre remains within the recycling loop, generating the best value for all concerned’.

Read more news from the European Paper Recycling Conference.