Blue circles represent tonnes traded in thousands, grey circles represent € per tonne; Source: Eurostat, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/waste; tonnes traded figure includes tonnes imported, exported and traded between EU nations

Recovered fibre traders have continued to enjoy sufficiently strong demand in early 2016, while collectors and processors scramble to compete for supply often deemed inadequate.

A collector and recycling plant operator based in the United Kingdom says there was a “post-Christmas wave of material coming through our sites, but this has stagnated since the first week of February.” Subsequently, he says, in the U.K. and likely in much of the rest of Europe lower levels of residential and commercial fibre generation have returned.

Despite the interruption posed by the Lunar New Year holiday in China, the same recycler says brokers representing China’s containerboard mills “continue to have a strong buying mentality” in early 2016.

Europe’s economy is sufficiently strong (featuring slow but steady growth using gross domestic product [GDP] as the measure) that paper and board mills in the region also are very much staying in the market for recovered fibre. “Demand is picking up, and some mills already have expressed concerns about availability this year,” the U.K. recycler says.

Paper production figures in North America, as measured by the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), demonstrate positive momentum in packaging sectors in that part of the world as well.

January 2016 output figures distributed by the AF&PA indicate “total boxboard production increased 0.5% when compared to January 2015 and increased 2.6% from [December 2015],” the association says. Similarly, “The production of recycled boxboard increased compared to January 2015 and increased when compared to [December 2015],” AF&PA adds.

The larger containerboard sector, likewise, experienced a good start to the year in the United States, according to AF&PA. “Containerboard production was 1% higher compared to January 2015, [and] the month-to-month average daily production compared to December 2015 was 5.3% higher,” the organisation says. The containerboard operating capacity rate for January ran at an impressive 95.2% in the USA.

Source: Eurostat, http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu

If global demand for recovered fibre remains on this steady course, increasing collection will continue to be a priority. The Brussels-based Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) says its IMPACT-PapeRec programme offers a partial solution, and it sees it tying into the EU’s Circular Economy efforts.

The project focuses on countries “with below average paper recycling rates, such as Bulgaria, Poland and Romania, as well as countries where paper from households, small shops and offices is often collected in a commingled stream with other recyclables like in France and the U.K.,” according to CEPI. “The participants started discussing the existing schemes as well as indicators to define best practice separate collection schemes.”

“With this project we will work to reach the recycling targets in those territories that are below the average,” says Antonio Dobon from the Valencia-based Instituto Tecnológico del Embalaje, Transporte y Logística (ITENE), the project coordinator. “We will also seek for paper recycling collection practices that reach both environmental and economic benefits.”

On the commercial and industrial front in Europe, the Eurostat agency has pegged GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2015 at 0.3% in the EU 28 nations compared with the prior quarter and 1.8% compared with the fourth quarter of 2014.

Some of the strongest GDP growth statistics continue to emanate from Eastern Europe, with fourth quarter 2015 increases compared with 2014, including Slovakia, 4%; Romania, 3.8%; Poland, 3.6%; and Bulgaria, 3.1%.