The Spanish paper industry has recycled 78% of the paper we consume, already exceeding the European voluntary target set for 2030

Aspapel presents the update of the report on the sustainable development of paper

Redaccin Interempresas07/14/2022

With circularity and decarbonization as the lines of environmental action of the pulp and paper industry in Spain, achievements and opportunities stand out, such as the fact that paper mills recycle 78% of the paper we consume, such as the promotion of sustainable forest management and its certification, so that 65% of the paper placed on the market is certified, or having succeeded in decoupling CO2 emissions2 of production, reducing them by 21% over the last decade and having reduced total water use in the manufacturing process to less than half since 1990, according to the Paper sustainability report updateedited by the Spanish Association of Pasta Manufacturers (Aspapel).


The Spanish paper industry, with 10 pulp mills and 69 paper mills, produces all major varieties of paper with renewable, recyclable and local raw materials. 95% of the wood and 69% of the paper used for recycling that we use are of local origin. By transforming these local raw materials, we create wealth in our country and contribute to industrial sovereignty, which has proven so important during the pandemic. With wood plantations for paper, we create jobs and wealth in an empty Spain, explains Elisabet Alier, president of Aspapel.

Local wood-for-paper plantations creating jobs and wealth in an empty Spain

In 2021, the Diez Espaolas cellulose factories will use as raw material 5,451,400 m3 of wood to produce 1,777,000 tonnes of pulp. Total wood consumption for paper will increase in 2021 by 2.2% compared to the previous year.

This is wood from fast-growing species (eucalyptus and pine) grown for this purpose in plantations, which are continuously regenerated and replanted and which otherwise would not exist. 95% of the wood used as raw material by the paper industry in Spain comes from these local pine and eucalyptus plantations (and the remaining 5% comes from plantations in other neighboring European countries). In a high and growing proportion (58%), it is also wood with sustainable forest management certification (FSC and/or PEFC).

These paper plantations represent 5,074 direct jobs and 15,882 indirect jobs in empty Spain.

Recycling rate of 78%, two points more than the voluntary European objective set by the sector

After use, paper products are collected for recycling through two channels: selective municipal collection (blue bin, commercial door-to-door and own points) and collection carried out by private operators in large retail outlets, industrial , printers.

Through these two channels, in 2021, 4,403,200 tonnes of paper and cardboard were collected for recycling, a volume slightly higher than that of 2020 (0.4%) and already in line with the pre-pandemic collection volume. These data show both the relevance of the Spanish system for collecting paper and cardboard and the deep roots of the habit of recycling this material in Spanish society.

Spanish paper mills recycled 5,354,800 tons of waste paper in 2021, an increase of 4.4% compared to the previous year. Spain is the second largest recycling country in the EU in terms of volume, surpassed only by Germany and almost on par with Italy. Thanks to this great recycling capacity, the Spanish paper industry guarantees the recycling in our country of all selectively collected paper and cardboard, in accordance with European quality standards (European standard UNE-EN 643).

In fact, the recycling rate in Spain (paper to be recycled used as raw material/consumption of paper and cardboard) amounts to 77.6%, already exceeding by almost two points the European target for 2030 recently set by the European Recycling Council. This means that the Spanish paper industry has recycled in 2021 almost 78% of the paper we consume in our country.

Making paper with less and less water and making it cleaner and cleaner

In 2021, the total water consumption in Spanish pulp and paper mills is 110 million m3 per year, half the amount of water in 1990, despite the fact that production has increased by more than 60% since then. And if we take the last decade as a reference, compared to the 119 million m3 annual 2012, the decline was 8%.

It is important to point out that in the papermaking process, the use and consumption of water are different concepts: of the total water used in the process, only a small part is actually consumed, which either evaporates or is incorporated in the final product. And the rest is made clean.

Thus, of these 110 million m3 of water, used by the Spanish paper industry in 2021, only 15% was actually consumed. The remaining 85% (93 million m3) was returned purified to the receiving environment (rivers or lakes, sea, municipal sewers, estuaries), after being reused internally as many times as possible.

In addition, over the past decade there has been a significant improvement in the quality of discharges in almost all indicators, which are currently at the highest standards permitted by the best available technologies. The Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) parameter in 2021 decreased by 62% compared to 2012 for cellulose and increased by 14% for paper. Suspended solids (SST) decreased by 56% for cellulose and 33% for paper. Finally, Halogenated Organic Compounds (AOX), a specific release from the production of bleached cellulose, decreased by 86%.

Decarbonization: reduction of energy consumption and emissions

In the field of decarbonization, energy efficiency measures, the use of biomass as fuel and cogeneration are the three pillars of the sector’s strategy in Spain in terms of reducing emissions. With this strategy, total CO emissions2 were reduced by 21% compared to 2012 and those of SOx and NOx by 83% and 40% respectively.

The paper industry is today the largest industrial producer and consumer of biomass in our country. Biomass currently represents 37% of the total fuels used by the sector.

The pulp and paper industry is electro-intensive and calorific and produces most of the thermal and electrical energy it needs in cogeneration plants located next to its factories, with an installed capacity of 876 MW. Cogeneration produces both electricity and useful heat in the form of steam, optimizing the use of fuel, thus saving primary energy (more than 10% savings) and reducing emissions.

The Spanish paper industry is committed to a sustainable reindustrialization, in which decarbonization and circularity are key elements, which are part of the DNA of paper.

Related companies or entities

National Association of Pulp, Paper and Paperboard Manufacturers

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