Since 2000, the European paper value chain has been committed to the two-fold aim of enhancing recycling and increasing efforts to remove obstacles hampering paper recycling in Europe.

In 2016, the signatories of the new European Declaration on Paper Recycling declared their commitment to reach a 74% paper recycling rate by 2020. In 2018, 71.6% of all paper consumed in Europe was recycled. The collection of paper for recycling has decreased by 1.6% compared to 2017 and reached 58.7 million tonnes.

Paper consumption has slightly decreased compared to 2017 and reached 82.0 million tonnes. The recycling rate therefore decreased from 72.4% in 2017 to 71.6% in 2018. Compared to the base year of the Declaration (2015), the amount of paper collected and recycled has decreased by 0.4 million tonnes.

In Europe, the paper industry has increased its utilisation of paper for recycling. However, the recycling rate has decreased mainly due to a disruptive decision by the Chinese government to reduce its dependence on secondary raw materials by 2020. China has also introduced strict quality requirements on imported paper for recycling.

As a consequence, the Chinese imports have drastically reduced by more than 50%. Other countries such as India and Thailand have increased imports of European paper for recycling, but this could not balance the strongly reduced Chinese trade.

While strong steps towards the 2020 target of 74% have already been taken, reaching the target by 2020 now seems challenging. Doing so will depend on the new European recycling capacities, which have been announced but may not all be ready by 2020.

At the same time, the structural change in paper consumption patterns has also continued in 2018: Graphic Paper consumption, in particular newspapers continued to decline in 2018. The increased consumption of corrugated boxes, the other most recycled paper product, only partly compensates for the challenge of declining graphic (printing and writing) paper consumption for the overall recycling rate.

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