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Will paper demand become a China crisis?

Forests worldwide have been shielded from destruction by Chinas booming paper industry but if it gets any bigger it may have the opposite effect. According to sustainable forestry group, Forest Trends, if demand for waste paper starts to outstrip supply the Chinese market will look at sourcing high quality pulp and pulpwood.

Chinas waste paper imports grew by more than 500% between 1996 and 2006 from 3.1m tonnes to 19.6m tonnes. China sources some pulp and pulpwood from countries already struggling to contain illegal logging such as Indonesia and Eastern Russia.

Any increase in demand could make the problem worse. Currently, three quarters of the fibre China gets from waste paper is used to manufacture packaging material and the rest is mostly used to make newsprint and coated paper.

But the Chinese paper markets are also scrambling to meet growing demand for high quality paper produced from pulp and pulpwood, which is also increasing demand.

Lead author of the report Brian Stafford said: China is by far the worlds biggest consumer of wastepaper and thats a good thing because in the last four years alone, China has prevented 65 million metric tonnes of wastepaper from heading to landfills in the US, Japan, and Europe.

He added: Just last year, Chinas use of wastepaper instead of trees to make paper products probably saved 54 million metric tonnes of wood from being harvested for pulp.

Forest Trends director of forest finance and trade Kerstin Canby said: Its clear that the sheer volume of the wastepaper used in Chinese manufacturing has a very beneficial and stabilizing effect on the global market for wastepaper, which in turn makes wastepaper collection a viable green option for communities in wealthy countries.

But we remain concerned that Chinese paper companies cant survive on wastepaper alone, and when they look for other types of fibrechiefly fibre needed for export-quality papersome large firms have a tendency to go shopping for wood and pulp in countries where natural forests already are under tremendous pressure.

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