The recovery and progress of China’s economy, the enhancement of the concept of environmental protection in the whole society and the execution of the government’s policies, such as the ban on plastic packaging, have significantly stimulated demand for packaging paperboard in the country. Data from annual reports of China Paper Association (CPA) shows that while production of packaging paperboard growing 19.02% from 53.11 million metric tons in 2011 to 63.20 million metric tons in 2020, consumption surged 29.71% to 69.86 million metric tons in the ten year period.
The fact that the total output of folding boxboard (combination of virgin fiber SBS board and recycled fiber boxboard) only increased moderately by 11.19% and consumption grew even less than 4% in the decade was the result of a “swap” between substantial elimination of recycled fiber boxboard mills who failed to meet with the environmental requirements on the one hand and the aggressive expansion in virgin fiber SBS board capacity and output in response to economic development that demands better performing boxboard on the other. While shutting down and retiring their environmentally unfriendly recycled boxboard machines, quite a few producers, especially those headquartered at Fuyang, eastern China’s Zhejiang Province, acquired, contracted, and leased some other up-to-standard mills across the country. With these mills in normal operation nowadays, plus the commercial runs and scheduled start-ups of green-field mills in Guangdong, Shandong, Henan, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui in 2021, market analysts project that capacity expansion for coated recycled fiber boxboard will exceed 2.3 million/mtpy in the country in 2021.
Compared with virgin fiber SBS board, capital investment in recycled fiber based boxboard is less and requirement on production equipment and technology is not as high either. At the same time, most of the production lines are relatively small in production capacity, which give producers a certain degree of flexibility in dealing with the shortage of raw materials, changes in the finished paper market, and energy and logistics. They are pragmatic options for the survival and growth of small and medium size producers operating in local markets. The whole industry may not be able to reclaim its good-old-day’s capacity and output of over 10 million/mtpy, it will however grow steadily in terms of capacity and annual production along with the overall increase in demand for packaging paperboard in the country. It may also develop into a niche product catering to specific needs of the market.