E-commerce, paper sector, innovation and transformation

Recent data published by the National Commission for Markets and Competition corroborate the excellent health of e-commerce in Spain, with a trend that continues to rise this year. Digital business sales will exceed 12,400 million euros in the first quarter of 2021, with more than 289 million transactions. This turnover represents an increase of 1.9% compared to the same period in 2020 and 27.7% in the number of transactions. Specifically, textile retail has benefited most from this e-commerce boom, which alone accounts for 9.7% of total e-commerce turnover in Spain.

This e-commerce boom, which has been growing exponentially since the pandemic, has led to unstoppable growth in the production of cardboard and other types of products for packaging. In 2019 alone, i.e. before the confinement and the extraordinary rise in online retail, more than 3.3 million tonnes of corrugated cardboard for packaging were produced in our country: in other words, more than half of Spanish paper and cardboard production.

This increase is true to the detriment of newsprint, graphic and writing paper production, which has led several companies to reorientate and adjust our business according to the new demands. Our current strategic plan is based on diversification towards packaging paper without losing newsprint production. Be that as it may, it is clear that the impact of e-commerce on the Spanish paper sector generates many business opportunities.

A dynamic, innovative and investing sector

According to recent figures available to the Spanish paper industry, it comprises some 1,640 companies and a workforce of more than 44,500 people. Overall turnover is around 14,000 million euros, more than half of which is derived from exports. Our country has 71 paper mills and ten pulp mills and is currently the fifth largest pulp producer and the sixth-largest paper manufacturer in Europe.

Moreover, our sector is a sector that invests heavily and has an excellent capacity for innovation in the development of new products and solutions. It is estimated that, by 2030, 40% of paper production in Spain will be based on bio-products that will exist in symbiosis with new technologies. This aspect cannot be ignored in the current context of the digitalisation of people’s lives.

The paper sector has had to adapt, innovate, and rethink itself strategically. But we have the strength and the means to face these changes without losing our weight as a European supplier.

Adaptation involves the environment

Ours is an electro-intensive and gas-intensive industry. It means that we must take on the role of leaders in decarbonising the sector, reducing our CO2 emissions compatible with growth in production and turnover.

It is our duty, and the circular economy provides many answers to the needs of decarbonisation, as revealed by the fact that, in 2019 alone, out of seven million tonnes of paper consumed in Spain, more than five million tonnes were used to produce new paper. Around 64% of waste paper in our country is collected for recycling: a very high collection rate compared to other materials.

Our sector must embrace an energy policy and a logistics and transport infrastructure policy focused on improving the industry’s efficiency, competitiveness, and sustainability. Even more so, bearing in mind that 57% of our production is destined for foreign markets. This figure will grow as e-commerce retailing increases and needs demand more packaging paper.

I am confident that, from the Spanish paper sector, we will be able to continue innovating, growing, adapting and overcoming all the challenges that changes and social demands throw at us.

Miguel Sánchez, CEO and president of Papresa