Solutions Solutions Industries Industries Resources Resources Success Stories Success Stories About About
Blog November 2022 Updated March 2023

Macro trends driving change in the European paper and cardboard market – what do they mean for recyclers?

Download brochure
Conor Dowd Product Marketing Manager

The European paper and cardboard market is undergoing structural changes as people read less newspapers and buy more goods online using cardboard packaging.

But how has this affected the European paper and cardboard market, and is more recycled content being used?

In 1991, according to the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), there were 1,570 paper mills in European countries. But by the time of its most recent statistics for 2021, this had almost halved to 886 mills.

Yet crucially, overall production of paper and cardboard had increased from 73,280,000 tonnes in 1991 to 100,567,000 tonnes in 2021 (however it had peaked at 103,714,000 tonnes in 2010).

Importantly, mills are also working at a higher operation rate, ensuring they are used more efficiently. In 2020, the operating rate was 84.7% (it had fallen due to COVID) but was back up to 90.1% in 2021 compared to 88.8% in 1991.

What about recycling?

According to CEPI’s Monitoring Report 2021, the paper and board recycling rate in 2021 was 71.4%. Although this had decreased from 73.3% in 2020, CEPI said this was due to growing consumption of paper and board in Europe and other countries, which had grown faster than the capacity for recycling of paper and board.

This is backed up by the amount of paper for recycling increasing in 2021 to 52.4 million tonnes, up 5.7% on the year before, due to new investments in new recycling capacity across Europe. 

How is production changing?

As the chart below from CEPI shows, there is a significant change in the manufacture of paper and cardboard following demand for these products.

Since 1991, the total amount of packaging paper and board produced has grown significantly from around 65 million tonnes to 90 million tonnes by 2021. With the growth of online shopping, and more requirement for cardboard packaging, this is a trend that is expected to continue to grow.

Additionally, the ban on Chinese recycled paper imports in 2021 meant changing market fundamentals. While Chinese mill groups have opened new mills in South East Asian countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, this has not replaced the volume that used to go there from Europe. As a result, mill groups in Turkey, India and of course Europe have seen an opportunity to increase the amount of recycled content they buy from European countries.

Indeed, CEPI notes that exports of paper for recycling have fallen by 28.1% from 2010’s 9.6 million tonnes to 6.9 million tonnes in 2021. 

While there has also been some growth in sanitary and household papers, production of graphic papers and newsprint has declined.

Converting newsprint mills to packaging mills

The decline in newsprint production has seen mill groups across Europe invest in converting mills from newsprint to packaging in response to the trend of more use of paper and cardboard packaging.

Mills being converted include:

What next for the European recycled market?

Clearly, the conversion of newsprint mills to containerboard is likely to lead for more demand for recycled content.

Many of the mills listed above for conversion have outlined plans to use all or mostly recycled fibre. 

This is likely to lead to more demand for grades such as OCC and mixed paper. But newsprint is in continued decline, although it remains in demand for remaining newspaper and magazine production mills as well as some tissue manufacturers. 

Over the next few years, the demand for recycled fibre for cardboard mills is likely to get stronger leading to a more competitive market across Europe. 

Although exports of paper for recycling from Europe are falling, there is a risk that despite this additional capacity, global competition is lost if the EU introduces its proposed revised EU Waste Shipment Regulations that would make it very hard to export fibre from Europe.

But for now, certainly, the future looks bright for the cardboard market, stable for the tissue market, but more challenging for graphic papers and newsprint. 

Share this on:

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Ready to see what AMCS can do for you?

Let AMCS show you how to optimize your operations for efficiency, increase your profits and grow your business

Request a customised demo

AMCS Platform for Recycling Brochure

Learn how AMCS Platform for Recycling will streamline your operational processes and increase profits.

Download brochure



Four Areas in which the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act and Carbon Tax Credits Could Impact the Environmental Services Industry


US Recycling Price Trends 2023

As we move into 2023, the new year brings with it new and on-going challenges for recyclers in the US, including economic pressures and market volatility, high energy prices and the on-going war in the Ukraine, climate change and efforts to decarbonize, and more M&A activity expected in the sector.


Select Points from AMCS INSPIRE Global Recycling Trends Discussion with Guest Speaker Dr. Vikram Mansharamani

We are delighted to share our conversation with Dr. Vikram Mansharamani from March 30th, 2023. Dr. Mansharamani joined Evan Schwartz of AMCS for an invigorating Q&A session. The topic was Global Recycling Trends – Navigating Challenges and Seizing Opportunities based on his ISRI report Global Trends and Implications for Recyclers,

View other resources

Would you like us to give you a call?

Fill in this form and we will get in touch with you asap!

Call me back

Contact AMCS to discover how our leading solution can help your business grow and thrive.

Explore Careers Solutions Success Stories Blogs Industry Solution Brochures Stay in touch Sign up for our newsletter
Follow us on