Spanish paper mills recycle 5,354,800 tons of used paper in 2021, 4.4% more than in 2020

The recycling rate in Spain stands at 77.6% and exceeds the European target set for 2030 by almost two points


Spanish paper mills recycled 5,354,800 tons of used paper in 2021, an increase of 4.4% compared to the previous year, according to the Paper Sustainability Report Update edited by ASPAPEL.

The document points out that Spain is the second largest recycling country in the EU in terms of volume, surpassed only by Germany and almost on par with Italy. As for the recycling rate in Spain (paper to be recycled used as raw material/consumption of paper and cardboard) it stands at 77.6%, which is why it has exceeded the European target for 2030 by almost two points recently. set by European Recycling. . This means that the Spanish paper industry recycled in 2021 almost 78% of the paper consumed in Spain.

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, as explained by Elisabet Alier, president of ASPAPEL.

“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 the wood plantations for paper, we are creating jobs and wealth in an empty Spain,” he says.

In 2021, the ten Spanish pulp mills used 5,451,400 m3 of wood as raw material to produce 1,777,000 tons of pulp. Total wood consumption for paper increased 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 continually regenerate and replant and would otherwise 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.

After use, paper products are collected for recycling in two ways: selective municipal collection (blue bin, commercial door-to-door and clean points) and collection carried out by private operators in large distribution areas, industries, printers, etc

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 in line with the pre-pandemic collection volume, according to The report.

The document also details that in 2021, the total water consumption in Spanish pulp and paper mills was 110 million m3 per year, half the water used in 1990, despite the fact that production has increased by more than 60% since then. If the last decade is taken as a reference, compared to the 119 million m3 per year in 2012, the drop was 8%.

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 evaporates or is incorporated into the final product, and the rest is returned purified. 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) is returned purified to the receiving environment (rivers or lakes, sea, municipal sewers, estuaries, etc.), after being reused internally as many times as possible.

In addition, over the last decade there has been an improvement in the quality of discharges in almost all indicators: 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, and halogenated organic compounds (AOX), the specific release from cellulose production blanched, decreased by 86%.


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. Thanks to this strategy, total CO2 emissions have been reduced by 21% compared to 2012 and those of SOx and NOx by 83% and 40%, respectively.

The report highlights that the paper sector is today the largest industrial producer and consumer of biomass in Spain: biomass currently accounts for 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%) and reducing emissions.

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