15 February 2016 by Steve Eminton

Paper production at lowest for 30 years

Total paper and cardboard production by UK paper mills slumped below the four million tonnes mark in 2015, according to figures just released by the Confederation of Paper Industries. The domestic production figure, at 3.97 million tonnes, was the lowest for almost 30 years, being close to the low of 3.94 million tonnes level recorded in 1986.

And, with domestic production falling in 2015, home mills used 12% less recovered – or ‘waste’ paper – in the production process at just under 3.3 million tonnes. This means that for what is thought to be the first time ever, exports of recovered paper to China alone – at about 3.6 million tonnes in 2015 – exceeded the total volume of recovered material used by UK mills.
Paper and Board 2015

There was an overall 11.4% increase in the export of recovered paper in 2015 with the export tonnage heading towards the five million mark and going to a range of countries including Indonesia, India, France, Germany and China. In 2015 4.9 million tonnes of recovered paper were exported compared to 4.4 million tonnes in 2014.

Export market

The export market was needed to soak up the arisings of material which couldn’t find a user in the UK. Partly this was because of the closure in 2015 of a number of paper mills and machines, notably the Aylesford Newsprint mill in Kent which made 400,000 tonnes of newsprint from 500,000 tonnes of used newspapers and magazines each year. Early 2015 also saw the closure of one of UPM’s two newsprint machines at Shotton which used about 200,000 tonnes of input material.

Other mills on the 2015 remembrance list include a machine at SCA’s Stubbins site, DS Smith’s Wansborough mill in Watchet, Whatman International’s machines in Kent, and Tullis Russell at Markinch. Not all the sites used recovered fibre but overall the total loss of production capacity was about 990,000 tonnes with closures totalling 13 papermaking machines.


On the positive side, new developments include a cardboard machine at Snodland operated by Smurfit Kappa which is beginning to increase production after some delays last year. And, there is new capacity at Fourstone’s Sapphire tissue mill in Scotland.

Snodland 1

Cardboard boost: Smurfit Kappa’s Snodland mill is now ramping up production on its new machine, which has replaced two machines and will produce 260,000 tonnes per annum of lightweight corrugated papers

The UK’s main cardboard mills, DS Smith in Kemsley and SAICA in Manchester, are both thought to have maintained firm production levels in 2015 and the corrugated sector saw production rise by 9.5% to 1.45 million tonnes. However, usage of ‘waste’ or ‘recovered’ cardboard by the mills rose by only 7.5% and this is thought to reflect the fact that more mixed paper is being used, especially by DS Smith at its Kemsley site.

The current year’s figures for recovered cardboard usage and production should increase significantly compared to 2015 but this will depend on the volumes taken in by the £98 million development by Smurfit Kappa at its Townsend Hook mill at Snodland, Kent where a newly installed machine from Italy has replaced two older ones.

Recycling rates

In terms of UK recycling rates viewed as a proportion of the material collected, volumes were broadly stable in 2015 and the amount of material recovered stayed at 8 million tonnes, similar to 2014. However, this level figure was only achieved by the collection of many more tonnes of cardboard than in the past, making up for reduced amounts of used newspapers collected as less are printed.

Precise comparisons with previous years of the volumes of used newspapers and magazines arising in the market and being used are hard to draw. This is because of changes in the way the data is compiled by the CPI. With the loss of Aylesford, generating statistical data for a market with only two players (Palm and UPM) was seen as potentially difficult and so newspaper production (known as mechanical) is now lumped in with mixed paper figures. The figures show overall about 400,000 tonnes less of mechanical and mixed in the market in the 2015 year.

Looking at the overall data for the collection of used newspapers and other mixed and mechanical grades, the intake volume was down 28.7% in 2015. Exports of used material were up just 5.8% after a surge in exports in June, primarily to get rid of material bulked up in the wake of the Aylesford closure.

Collection of cardboard also rose by 9% to 4.14 million with an increase in December 2015, at 419,000 tonnes collected compared to 312, 000 in December 2014 up on a monthly comparison by 34%. The monthly data is notoriously variable but the December increase could be down to higher levels of cardboard arising because of the growth of internet shopping ahead of Christmas.

‘Social trends’

“What is also clear now is the utter reliance on the export market for recovered paper.”

Simon Weston, Director of Raw Materials
Confederation of Paper Industries

Commenting on the figures, Simon Weston, Director of Raw Materials at the Confederation of Paper Industries, said that the data which confirmed the loss of the newsprint mahines “demonstrates the impact of changing social trends and the impact of the new technology.”

And in terms of the loss of production overall, Mr Weston said that this was in part down to the UK’s approach to energy policy. “The figures show the impact of the UK’s carbon policies and their impact on industry. Our industry, like other producers, is struggling to remain competitive and attractive for inward investment. The delivered cost of energy for industry is twice the cost of electricity in Germany.”

Mr Weston added: “And, what is also clear now is the utter reliance on the export market for recovered paper. This confirms the need to maintain the quality of material for recycling. Good quality material will always find a market.”

Related links
Confederation of Paper Industries


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