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Chinese charge to be top of the pile in paper

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
Aug 2, 2010
Publisher Name: 
Philip Lawrence
Author e-Mail: 
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As European paper-making continues to falter, the Asian superpower is growing capacity at a great rate.

Since the start of this decade, the Chinese pulp and paper industry growth rate has been extraordinary. While the European paper industry keeps shrinking, China keeps marching onwards. Almost 20% of Europe's newsprint capacity has been shut down over the past few years. European wood-free paper has declined almost the same amount. China looks to have about 10 million tons coming on line up to 2013 and more to follow. The Chinese printing sector is expanding by as much as 12%. So where will the fibre come from to feed the need for paper in China?

Much of China's fibre is waste paper recovered from within the country. Significant supplies also come from the international recovered paper market, mostly the US and Europe, where the declining markets for paper manufacturing means less recovered paper is being turned into "new" paper. Of China's 80 million ton of paper products, about 30 million tons of recovered paper is used in manufacturing. Some 11.5 million tons comes from the US and just under nine million from Europe. Some comes from Australia, South Korea and Japan. There's a future challenge for China in that it relies on the developed world using "new" paper in the first place. The US has reduced its consumption of newsprint by about 50% since the start of the decade. China now takes 30% of the US's used newsprint; as the sector shrinks, the difficulty getting adequate supply will only mount.

Virgin fibre is a significant issue. China was almost completely devoid of forests after decades of neglect, something the government has recognised. In typical Chinese fashion, the forestry programs are massive. The government has implemented massive afforestation programs that overshadow anything elsewhere in the world. Two examples are the Grain to Green Program (GTGP) and the Natural Forests Conversion Program (NFCP).

The GTGP recognises the role that sloping land plays in regards to soil erosion. Any land that has a slope of 25°-plus and currently has a crop planted is required to be converted to forestry. Farmers with rights to the land are paid each year to maintain the forests. The GTGP is targeting 62 million hectares of cropland. The combined land area of Finland and Sweden is about 75 million hectares. This single forestry project is almost the size of Europe's two biggest forestry nations. The GTGP in China has already been very successful; it has been expanded for an additional eight years.

The NFCP project is looking at damage done by illegal logging at the headwaters of the Yangtze River. Forests in that part of China have been left uncontrolled for many years. The government greatly increased controls over illegal logging and started a program of mass planting, which is addressing years of illegal logging activities. The government is also employing local people in forestry maintenance, which release them from the need to earn an income from illegal logging.

So while the Western world talks about climate change and collectively fails to commit to meaningful methods of addressing the problem, China is spending US$750m on direct projects that regenerate lost natural forestry and provide a national forestry asset for the wood fibre industry in that country.

Philip Lawrence spent many years working in the paper sector and is now a consultant and public speaker specialising in print and the environment.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut