The paper-cardboard business is booming with the e-commerce boom and the abandonment of plastic packaging

A 25% jump in revenue in 2021 compared to 2020. This was revealed by the French association of the cardboard, paper and cellulose industry (Copacel) on Wednesday. It is an amount of 5.9 billion euros for this sector, which in France represents 82 factories employing more than 10,500 employees. In terms of volume, production increased by 7% to 7.4 million tons, erasing the production low associated with the health crisis in 2020 (-6.1%) and even slightly above the level of 2019 (+ 0.4%).

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This rebound concerned both packaging (+9.7%) and graphic paper (+8.7%) used for printing books or newspapers. However, after the quasi-stability (-0.4%) of the first and the significant decrease in the production of the second (-26.7%) in 2020, the increase in volumes in 2021 was not enough to curb the trend . of mills intended for newsprint, designated Copacel.

Victim both of the digitization of the world and of factory closures, paper intended for graphic use represented only 17.7% of all paper production in France in 2021, compared to 45% in 2001. this packaging is the big winner of the Covid crisis with 66 % of total paper produced compared to 45% in 2001.

Toilet paper also increased to 11% against 6.2% in 2001.

This increase in the production of paper and cardboard in France in 2021 is part of a context of increasing industrial production compared to 2020. Nevertheless, the level remained lower than before the health crisis. While the industrial production index was 104.7 in 2019 and 92.5 in 2020 (the value of 100 corresponding to the 2015 average), it stood at 98.1 in 2021.

5th largest paper and cardboard producer in Europe

The development in the French production of paper and cardboard is slightly above the European average (+5.8% in 2021 compared to 2020). Nevertheless, the decline in the French paper industry over a period of 10 years is greater than in other European countries. Compared to 2010 (index 100), the production index for 2021 is thus 83 for France, while it is 100 for Germany and 107 for Spain.

At European level, in 2021, France is ranked 5th in terms of its production of paper and cardboard, with 8% of total production. In front are Germany (26%), Sweden (10%), Italy (11%) and Finland (9%). In comparison, France was in fourth place in 2001 with 11% of European production.

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A market boosted by e-commerce and the abandonment of plastic

The year 2021 saw an increase in the apparent consumption of paper and cardboard in France: 8.4 million tons, i.e. 5% more than in 2020. With the economic recovery, “continued development of e-commerce” and “substitution of plastic in packaging” were the driving forces behind this recycling of papercardboard in 2021, detailed Paul-Antoine Lacour, General Delegate of Copacel during a press briefing in Paris.

And this should continue. In its roadmap, the paper industry hypothesizes a growth in the production of paper and cardboard of 1.8% per year in France between 2020 and 2030. It will thus increase from 6.9 million tons in 2020 to 8.2 in 2030 (excluding market mass). If the production of graphic paper were to decrease by 19%, all the others would have to increase: +29% for wrapping and packaging paper, +18% for sanitary paper and +35% for specialty paper.

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Uncertainties for the future, especially due to the cost of energy

Nevertheless, as Copacel points out, “despite these favorable elements, the outlook for 2022 must be prepared with great caution due to the many uncertainties hovering over the economy”, referring in particular to energy costs, which skyrocketed well before the war in Ukraine and have since been exacerbated by the conflict.

In general, the inflationary pressures related to raw materials and energy that emerged in 2021 did not spare the paper industry. Price increases on raw materials, equipment and consumables have generally been combined with “significant extension of delivery times” of certain types of paper products.

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As with most raw materials in 2021, prices for paper and cardboard to be recycled have risen sharply (+160% over the year for corrugated cardboard recovered in 2021 compared to 2020), as well as for wood.

However, Copacel states that the paper industry is not directly affected by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Exports of paper and cardboard are very low (and almost zero for pulp), and no raw materials come directly from Russia or Ukraine.

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(With AFP)