The averaged recycled content of UK newsprint increased from 27% in 1990 to 43.6% in 1996 as capacity to reprocess newspapers and magazines was expanded at three mills in England. But the figure dropped to 41.4% in the first half of last year as cheaper newsprint made from virgin fibre was bought from Scandinavia and Canada (ENDS Report 276, p 12 ). A 4.5% tariff on Canadian exports to the EC in excess of 600,000 tonnes per year is due to be phased out by 2002, potentially depressing demand for recycled product.
Prodded by the Government, newspaper publishers have formed a group to assess the optimum level of recycling. It will report in the spring.
FoE believes that statutory targets would help to stabilise the market for waste paper and give paper mills the confidence to invest in new capacity. Its draft Bill would oblige newspaper publishers to achieve a minimum recycled content for their titles in three phases. From a minimum base level of 40%, the recycled content would increase to 65% from January 2003, 70% from January 2006, and 80% from January 2010.
FoE contends that the measure would bring a number of environmental benefits, including reduced pressure on biodiversity in forests from which the UK obtains its virgin fibre, and reductions in methane emissions and other impacts associated with landfilling. The group is sure that recycling is far preferable on a life-cycle basis to landfill and incineration.
A report prepared for FoE by CAG Consultants also concludes that the targets would lead to several thousand extra jobs - mainly in waste paper collection - and savings on the UK's import bill (see table ). However, the balance of payments benefits would be achieved only if the UK's recycling capacity - currently around one million tonnes per year - is expanded.
CAG was told that two mills are contemplating investments to increase their capacity to use waste paper. Aylesford Newsprint, which consumes 450,000 tonnes of recovered paper per year, is mulling an expansion to take its capacity to 800,000 tonnes. And Shotton Paper has plans which would raise its capacity to use recovered paper by 100-150,000 tonnes per year.
If these investments go ahead, they would provide enough capacity to meet the initial 65% target. However, the industry may want a repetition of the £20 million grant awarded to Aylesford Newsprint to persuade it to invest in the UK.
CAG believes from discussions with paper mills that there are no technical constraints on a very substantial increase on present recycling levels. The main obstacle is the UK's poorly developed paper collection infrastructure. Only about 30% of post-consumer newspapers and magazines are currently recovered, compared with 43% in France, 51% in Germany, 61% in the Netherlands, and 60-70% in Norway and Sweden.
The UK's recovery rate would have to improve to 52% for the 80% recycling target to be achieved. Much of this could be done, CAG suggests, by "mining" London and the north-west conurbations, which are close enough to the three reprocessing mills to keep transport impacts to a minimum.
FoE's Bill is unlikely to receive overt support from the Government or the paper industry because of political and commercial sensitivities in their relationships with newspaper publishers. The group hopes to build enough support for the measure among MPs for the Government not to oppose it if it is introduced as a Private Member's Bill.