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The Recycled Paper Market in India

1st August 2022

Paper consumption in India has continued to increase, with a 9-10% growth in consumption each year. Despite this, the recycled paper market in India is low by international standards.

Indian recycling levels are only half the global average. Developed countries like Germany recover 73% waste paper, Sweden 69%, Japan 60%, USA 49%. Indigenous collection accounts for only 30% of the paper market in India.

Problems with waste collection:

  • No effective collection mechanism for waste paper from offices and households.

  • The role of municipalities is not efficient in the current waste management network.

  • Lack of large space for storage, sorting of waste paper.

  • No proper coordination between the informal sector and the main supply chain of waste paper to paper industry.

While significant efforts over the past few years have been taken by the national, and local governments as well as large paper companies to develop more efficient collection systems, Indian mills have to often import waste paper.

The largest importer of waste paper

In fact, India is one of the largest importers of waste paper. Most imports of waste paper are from the US and the UK. During the first half of 2018, there was a 200% rise in waste paper exports from the European Union to India. And from the US, exports rose by more than 100% between January and October last year compared to the same period in 2017.

Overall, in India, companies use only 46 per cent of raw material from recovered paper, 29 per cent from agro-residue like bagasse, straw etc. and 29 per cent from plantation wood, a study has found. However, most mills fulfill their requirement through social forestry plantation on their own or through farmers, and a while it attempts to plant new trees, it can take between 7 to 10 years for a tree see desired growth. So, while efforts are constantly being made to reduce pollution, captive forestry does contribute to a form of deforestation and damage to the environment.

When it comes to consumption, apart from the packaging and print media industry, paper is seeing rapid increase in consumption in stationery such as Copier Paper, Notebooks, Pencils, etc. with increasing rates of literacy and population, and needs to see more sustainable alternatives (“Shop” link”).

The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has heavily impacted the supply of waste paper however, and resulted in heavy shortages. Lesser wastage of paper in the US and Europe during the pandemic, as well as increasing prices and non-availability of shipping containers, has once again served a harsh reminder that indigenous waste collection needs ramping up.

At the moment, it is expected that as we move to the far side of the pandemic and things improve, buying will eventually increase from other increase and imports will shoot up further. This promises to be a short-term solution, as reliance on imports can have adverse effects as countries continue to improve their own indigenous recycling.

While the average consumption of paper per capita is low in India as compared to the US and Europe, an increase in consumption is looming, and this, coupled with better waste management and recovery, can lead to cheaper paper production as well as self-sufficiency in the Indian paper industry along with lesser environmental impact.

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