Recovered Paper Exports Fall 5% as Prices Crash 28%

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Australia exported 1.053 million tonnes of recovered paper in 2019-20, a fall of 4.8% on the prior year. In a year in which the market was torched, the total value of exports fell a huge 27.7% to be valued at AUD172.4M.

The only grade that held up was the ‘Unsorted’ or ‘Mixed’ grade which saw exports lift 19.5% to 443.0 kt, accounting for more than 42% of the total, up from 33.5% the prior year. The asymmetry of the Unsorted grade, compared with the other three grades has never been more evident.

This is an edited extract of an analysis that first appeared in the Pulp & Paper Edge Data and Information Service in August 2020. Click here to login or subscribe

Falling exports of OCC (Old Corrugated Cartons) have arisen as China and other countries applied increasingly strict quality requirements over the last two years. At the same time, exports of the ‘Unsorted’ grade have grown, until recently, replacing the ‘lost’ OCC exports. This arose in part because OCC volumes were downgraded to the generally lower standards required for unsorted exports.

Of interest in the market is that one collector we have spoken with has been exporting large volumes of material as Unsorted for exactly these reasons, but has sourced most of their export volumes from Commercial & Industrial (C&I) sources and not from kerbside collections, which were the mainstay of the Unsorted export designation.

The average monthly export volume may be trending down as OCC exports falter, but the same cannot be said of the price of recovered paper. The average export price lifted 5.4% in June to end the year at AUDFob186.68/t. That was satisfactory, given late 2019 was something of a price debacle, even before the pandemic took hold. However, it is the full year data that tells the real price story. At AUDFob163.76/t over 2019-20, the average export price was down 24.1% on the prior year. That is hardly a recipe for success.

 A depreciating US dollar is providing some comfort for exporters, providing them with a mini-buffer against what would otherwise be declining prices in coming months.

The table here shows the damage inflicted on this market by the impending Chinese exit, but with exports to both Indonesia and Malaysia more than doubling over the year, the opportunities are evident. The latter is an interesting case in example. Malaysia is home to significant capacity that is creating recovered paper pulp and shipping it to China.

Australia’s own export bans commence mid-2024. Perhaps that timeline and the Government’s Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF) will provide the impetus for similar developments in Australia. There is certainly sufficient recovered paper available for recovered paper pulping to play a part in the national fibre mix.


Australian RCP Exports by Country: 2018-19 – 2019-20 (kt)

% Change

Source: ABS


As IndustryEdge has set out in the 2020 Pulp & Paper Strategic Review, implied recovered paper utilization in Australia lifted in 2019-20. However, our data collection and analysis processes show us that up to 500 kt of recovered paper was collected and not used or exported. Some inventories and other management, along with non-paper utilisations aside, that is a lot of unnecessary landfill of a valuable resource.

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