Transizione ecologica

Paper recycling: innovation, sustainability and development opportunities

Ignazio Capuano, CEO of Burgo Group, joined Italy's National Conference of the Recycling Industry with a speech on innovation and market opportunities linked to paper recycling.

On 16 December 2022, at the Corriere della Sera headquarters in Milan and on live streaming, the National Conference of the Recycling Industry was held, featuring the presentation of the Recycling in Italy Report. The report, produced in collaboration with the supply chains and business associations involved in the recycling industry, contains updated data from all sectors and allows us to assess the results achieved in Italy after the implementation of the Decreto Ronchi (Legislative Decree 22/97).

In 25 years, Italy has gone from a situation of waste emergency to excellence in recycling: today, Italy is the European leader in waste recycling.

The Italian recycling industry has become an important sector that generates an added value of 10.5 billion – increased by 31% from 2010 to 2020 – and produces large quantities of recycled materials, including 5 million and 213 thousand tons of paper and cardboard.

Among recycling chains, the paper one ranks at the top in terms of performance: the recycling rate of paper packaging in 2021 in Italy reached 85%, exceeding the European target set for 2030. In 2021, 63% of paper and cardboard produced in Italy came from recycling.

The conversion of the Avezzano plant

Recycling represents an extraordinary development opportunity for the paper industry, already seized by Burgo Group with the reconversion of the Avezzano plant, which began in 2018.

Watch the video "The opportunity in reconversion" (52 seconds)

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The investment of tens of millions of euros has allowed the transition to the production of corrugated cardboard materials for the packaging industry, with the reinstatement of over 130 jobs.

The paper mill now delivers an annual production of 220,000 tonnes of paper that is 100% made with secondary fibres: waste paper from recycling, packaging recovery, and processing scraps.

Watch the video "The value of reconversion" (25 seconds)

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Opportunities for development and need for innovation

"In 2021, Italy climbed one position at the European level and becomes the second paper producer and the second recycler – after Germany – thanks also to the conversion of production plants from coated paper to packaging paper (containerboard), such as Avezzano", said Capuano.

While remaining a net exporter of paper to be recycled, in 2021 the Italian paper industry increased the use of paper to be recycled by 16%, setting a record of over six million tons for internal consumption.

"An excellent positioning at European level that must necessarily be maintained and strengthened" stressed the CEO of Burgo Group: although positive, the data relating to paper recycling in Italy still reveal enormous room for improvement. The collection of paper for recycling would allow greater reuse than the current one. The data is evident by comparing the collection and use rates recorded in Italy with those of other European countries.

Watch the video "Paper collection rate and usage rate" (48 seconds)

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However, such discrepancy varies from sector to sector. Indeed, in the packaging sector, Italy has an enviable rate of use of recycled paper.

Watch the video "Usage rate for packaging papers" (26 seconds)

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The products such as those made in the Avezzano paper mill serve exactly this sector.

The situation for the graphic paper sector is dramatically different.

Watch the video "Usage rate for graphics papers" (58 seconds)

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Capuano's conclusions highlight how "the lack of infrastructure for recycling strongly affects the competitiveness of the sector and the industrial decarbonisation objectives. Production waste and sludge could produce energy and biogas, thus reducing the energy bill, favouring decarbonisation and the development of the circular economy: improving, in short, the sector’s competitiveness".

Burgo Group is investing both in the design of quality recycled paper products that are capable of responding to current market needs and in the development of by-products that make it possible to enhance the externalities deriving from the processing of waste paper. In this way, a more decisive step is taken towards a circular economy model: new products are born from recovered paper, which can in turn be recycled, and the residues of the industrial process generate by-products and new energy.

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