Without new fibres, from new trees, the paper cycle cannot be maintained. Recycled fibres degrade after several uses and the paper industry needs fresh fibre from responsibly managed forests to keep the renewable cycle going.
Europe is the world leader when it comes to recycling paper. 72.3% of our paper is now recycled.1 This means more recycled fibres are being used as a raw material by Europe’s paper producers. In 1991, paper for recycling made up 40% of fibre used, compared to 60% virgin fibre. In 2017, paper for recycling made up 54% of fibre used, compared to 47% virgin fibre.2
This growth in recycled fibres being used has slowed down in recent years as total paper for recycling in Europe reaches nearer to its practical maximum. It is therefore likely that the current balance of recycled and virgin fibres will remain steady. It is very difficult to directly compare recycled fibre with virgin fibre as both are fundamental to the paper making process.
Recycled paper can be used in some grades more than others. For example, newsprint and some types of packaging are often made with 100% recycled fibre. High grade graphic papers, however, have a lower utilisation rate, around 13% 2, but when recycled, inject the cycle with virgin fibres.
The paper making process really is a sustainable cycle. Recycled fibres are used as effectively as possible, whilst new fibres are constantly brought in to replenish and maintain the process.
A fibre can be recycled several times, yet not indefinitely, depending on the paper grade. Therefore, there is a continuous need to feed the inflow of recovered fibre with paper products made of virgin pulp. Paper recycling needs to continuously incorporate a certain amount of fresh fibres for three main reasons: strength, quality and availability.European Paper Recycling Council, 2017
Collecting paper for recycling, ensuring fibres remain available for remanufacture, is key to sustainability.
1 European Paper Recycling Council, Monitoring Report 2017.
2 CEPI Key Statistics 2017