As a global industry, the recovered fiber sector relies on trade among several countries to ensure movement of material. When one country changes course, the secondary paper sector must adjust, which it has done throughout much of the second half of 2017 because of actions coming out of China.

One of the goals of the policy change in China is to raise the recovery and reuse of domestic recyclables and to promote the circular economy, said Steve Wong, chairman of Hong Kong-based plastics recycling firm Fukutomi Co. Ltd. and executive president of the China Scrap Plastic Association, in an export-focused session on National Sword at the 2017 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference Oct. 11-13 in Chicago. “Coming to a halt” is a summary of that session.

From its National Sword initiative to its import bans on certain scrap, China has made clear its intention to buy cleaner material. This push for cleaner material by China means U.S. suppliers will need to step up to the plate to improve their quality, said Greg Rudder, editor of Boston-based research firm RISI’s PPI Pulp & Paper Week and a speaker at the 2017 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference. An edited transcript of his presentation is available in the article “Letting it play out.”

“Recovered paper is an $8.5 billion business,” Rudder said. “Fifty-nine percent of the recovered paper collected in the U.S. is sold in the domestic market, while 41 percent is exported. Of the export share, two-thirds goes to China.”

“This push for cleaner material by China means U.S. suppliers will need to step up to the plate to improve their quality.”

The recovered fiber that doesn’t—or hasn’t been able to—go to China has found alternative homes. Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam and India, have been buying.

In the article, “Emerging in stages,” Recycling Today Editor Brian Taylor outlines other nations in Asia that are emerging as growing destinations for scrap paper. India and the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region are important destinations for the developed world’s excess scrap materials.

At the 2017 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference Europe, held in Warsaw, Poland, in early November, Hrishikesh Vora of Mumbai-based Victory Creations and Paperworks said capital is being invested in new and upgraded paper mills in India and that the nation is about to experience “unprecedented demand for scrap paper.”

He said India’s paper production is being forecast to rise from 15 million metric tons in 2017 to 27 million tons in 2030. “With that growth, scrap paper will always be in demand,” Vora stated.

Whether it finds its way to more Southeast Asian countries or stays stateside as domestic consumption increases, the future of secondary fiber markets is uncertain. What is known, however, is that recovered paper markets will adjust.