Paper Recycling in Europe Reaches All-Time High

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Europe is now the global leader in paper recycling. The continent’s paper recycling rate has doubled over the last 15 years, and has now reached 71.5%, primarily due to significant investment by European paper industries themselves.

An Ancient Concept

Paper recycling is nothing new. In fact, did you know that the paper industry has been recycling for almost 1,000 years? The first documented occurrence of paper recycling was in Japan in the year 1031. At that time, a government order was issued requiring papermakers to repulp all waste papers to make new paper.

But as environmental awareness has increased, particularly since the latter half of the 20th century, the value of recycling paper has also increased. Businesses around the globe have recognized that recycling is both ecologically and economically sound. Recovered paper is now seen as a vital raw material for paper production.

Back to Europe

According to the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), the European recycling rate is well above the U.S. rate (currently 64.6%) and world average levels (58%). And the paper industry itself is the largest recycler in Europe.

Here are the latest European statistics:

  • 90% of European newspapers are printed on recycled paper
  • 90% of corrugated boxes are made of recycled fiber
  • 71.5% of consumed paper is sent for recycling
  • 54% of the fibers used in new paper and board are sourced from recovered paper

Targets Exceeded

In November 2000, paper recycling targets were first outlined by the First European Declaration on Paper Recovery, and the European Recovered Paper Council (ERPC) was established for the purpose of monitoring progress. According to a recent ERPC publication, the European paper industry has consistently exceeded the targeted goals established by each European Declaration. For example, the target recycling rate set by the Third European Declaration was 70% by 2015; that rate was exceeded by 1.5%.

The ERPC has indicated that Europe’s high success rates are due to the contributions of all parties in the paper recycling chain. “The waste management industries, as well as the recovered paper merchants, contribute to raising the quantity and quality of recovered paper available for recycling. The consumers [both household and industrial] need to be informed about their role in closing the paper loop.”

Paper is the most recycled material in Europe and more than half of the paper produced in Europe comes from recycling. As stated above, nine out of ten corrugated boxes are made from recycled fiber, and nine out of ten European newspapers are printed on recycled paper.

graph_europeanpaperrecycling1991-2015compressedNew Goals

The European paper industry is committed to maintaining a 70% or higher recycling rate, despite the fact that almost 20% of all paper used in Europe is not available for recycling. This is because certain paper items (such as books, documents and photographs) are often kept in archives or libraries. In other cases (such as sanitary paper or cigarette paper), they deteriorate or biodegrade.

“Doing more with less” has become European paper industry’s motto. In other words, they strive to make paper with fewer (and increasingly renewable) materials, using less energy, and with more efficient machines and zero waste.

Energy Use

Already, 55% of the energy used by the European paper industry is “bio-energy.” Bioenergy is energy derived from biological material (in this case, wood and wood pulp). In essence, it is the utilization of solar energy that has been bound up in this biological material during the process of photosynthesis. It is a renewable energy source.

The European paper industry uses residues and waste materials from the pulping process to provide energy for the manufacturing process itself. Any excess heat and power that is produced is then sold to the grid or used by the local community.

Here’s a video clip that demonstrates how the circular economy manifests in the European paper industry:

What’s Next for Europe?

Apparently, a new ambitious commitment for 2016-2020 is currently being prepared. Stay tuned.


European Recovered Paper Council

Confederation Of European Paper Industries

Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland

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