According to the most recent figures available for the Spanish paper industry, it comprises some 1,640 companies, which employ more than 44,500 people and have a global turnover of around 14,000 million euros, 57% of which is derived from foreign trade. With 71 paper mills and ten pulp mills, Spain is the fifth largest pulp producer and sixth largest paper manufacturer in the European Union.
Going further, it is a sector that invests heavily, exports more than half of its production and has an excellent capacity for innovation in the development of new products and solutions. It is possible to predict that, by 2030, 40% of its production will be based on new products with new features, like bio-products that will be in symbiosis with new technologies.
This contextual data shines through eloquently when it comes to analysing the challenges and structural transformations that the sector is undergoing due to changing habits and the progressive digitalisation of people’s lives. Never in the last century has the paper sector had to draw on its capacity for adaptation, innovation and strategic reorientation.
The rise of packaging and the decline of newsprint
On the one hand, the rise of e-commerce, which has increased exponentially with the pandemic, has led to unstoppable growth in the production of carton board and other types of packaging products. In 2019 alone, i.e. before the extraordinary splendour of eCommerce during the confinement, more than 3.3 million tonnes of corrugated cardboard were produced in our country. That is, more than half of the Spanish production of paper and cardboard.
On the other hand, this increase is to the detriment of the production of newsprint, graphic and writing paper, which has been strongly reduced and has led several companies to reorientate and adjust their business according to the new demands. This is the case of our paper mill, once totally focused on newsprint and now immersed in a strategic plan based on diversification towards packaging paper.
The paper sector must continue to rely on aid to face the changes that affect its complex and dense value chain. To promote the digital transformation of the industry, it will have to depend on the framework of the Industria Conectada 4.0 (IC 4.0) initiative, whose objective is to increase the weight of Industry 4.0 in Spanish GDP. We must also establish valuable alliances with public administrations, suppliers, logistics services and customers, aware that we are all rowing in the same direction.
Participants in the industry’s decarbonisation
We must be leaders in decarbonising the industry due to our high demand for gas and electricity. It is our sector that must lead this decarbonisation by making the reduction of our CO2 emissions compatible with growth in production and turnover.
The answer lies in the circular economy, which is firmly embedded in the DNA of our industry. Of the approximately seven million tonnes of paper consumed in our country in 2019, more than five million tonnes were used to produce new paper. Around 64% of waste paper in Spain is collected for recycling: a very high collection rate compared to other materials.
To continue with our decarbonisation plan, our sector must embrace policies (energy, logistics, and transport infrastructure) focused on improving the industry’s efficiency, competitiveness, and sustainability. Even more so, bearing in mind that more than half of what we produce is destined for foreign markets, which requires exploring environmental policies for internationalisation and foreign trade that facilitate access to foreign markets while minimising our activity’s impact and carbon footprint.
In my opinion, the Spanish paper industry is facing an exciting time, full of challenges, prospects for a future of growth and improvement in efficiency and environmental impact. It is a moment that requires alliances, strategy, lots of fresh ideas and awareness of the weight that our sector has in the economy of this country.
I am sure we will soon see many positive results.
Miguel Sánchez, CEO at Papresa