Pandemic accelerated trends seen in recent years, latest CEPI report says.
The European market for paper and cartonboard staged a recovery last year after collapsing in the pandemic-hit year of 2020. However, this rally was mostly fuelled by the packaging paper and board segment. In a press release marking the publication of its annual statistical review for 2021, the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) noted that, like other industries, the pulp and paper industry had shown signs of a solid post-Covid recovery in 2021. Paper and cartonboard consumption had improved by 5.8 per cent, outperforming the general growth in Eurozone GDP. As a result, paper and cartonboard production increased by 6.1 per cent. The sector’s operating rate stood at 90 per cent last year, up from 85 per cent in 2020. CEPI also reported a positive trend for the first quarter of 2022, with the sector surpassing its production level for the first quarter of 2021 between January and March of this year.
However, the market is heading in two different directions: while packaging paper and cartonboard enjoyed new record growth last year after consumption dipped just slightly in 2020, graphic paper consumption bounced back by just shy of 3 per cent after plummeting by close to 18 per cent in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic had accelerated certain trends seen over the past decade, CEPI noted. The rise of e-commerce had given a boost to the paper and board packaging market, which also benefited from the substitution of other solutions, often fuelled by the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive. Output of packaging grades reached an all-time high in 2021, growing by 7.5 per cent compared to 2020. Packaging paper grades used for bags displayed the most robust growth, which CEPI put at 11.6 per cent. These products reaped the rewards of the EU-backed phase-out of plastic packaging.
On the other hand, the newsprint and woodfree coated paper businesses experienced a sharp downturn in 2020 and 2021. Partly capped by production downtime last year, newsprint consumption declined by around 1.3 million t in 2019-2021, and woodfree coated paper consumption was down approximately 0.9 million t.
Another significant pandemic-related impact on paper markets had been the trend in the hygiene paper business, CEPI said. The Confederation pointed out that demand for hygiene paper had “seen a correction effect, with the peak of the pandemic now behind us, and it should benefit from higher hygiene requirements over the long term.”