Paper converting company alarm: production of cartons, packaging and books at risk

The situation of producers is very serious and from Brussels to Rome they are calling for targeted measures to support the sector in order to avoid a stop because of costs that are no longer sustainable

From Brussels to Rome rebounds the alarm raised by companies in the paper industry. The message is simple: the production of books, newspapers, packaging and paper for the food industry is at risk because of the difficulty in finding raw materials, and when they can be bought, prices per tonne have reached another record high. An economic situation that is slowing down and progressively blocking activity in Italy and Europe. Assografici, which represents the graphic and paper converting industry in Italy, endorses the appeal launched at pan-European level by Intergraf, warning that the situation in the Peninsula is very serious. The publishing and commercial printing sector, already characterised by a structural crisis but able to show signs of settling down and holding its ground (-2.4% production in 2018 and +1% in 2019), has been strongly affected by the pandemic (-21.3% in 2020) and was now slowly recovering with +7.9% in the first 9 months of 2021. Now the recovery is at risk due to the international economic situation and the well-known increases in energy and raw material prices. In fact, printing processes with rotary presses are highly energy-intensive and are no longer sustainable; on the contrary, they are at great risk at a standstill, warns Assografici. Moreover, rising paper prices, which are difficult to pass on downstream to publishers and large-scale distributors, are eroding all margins in the business. To further aggravate this scenario, the extremely scarce availability of raw materials, particularly of paper for graphic use, mainly sourced abroad from the few remaining suppliers, prevents production planning, jeopardises the fulfilment of contractual commitments, and hampers any recovery path. So for the sector, which in Italy has about 14 thousand companies and over 76 thousand employees, it is an extremely problematic situation, but the risk in the short term of no longer being able to dispose of newspapers, books and many paper products for everyday use should worry every citizen and push the government to take targeted measures. We call for possible action, including international action, to remove certain bottlenecks that are further slowing down paper production, for generalised recognition of tax credits on paper, not only for newspaper publishers, but also for publishers of professional journals and books, especially school books.

Analysing the trend in the production of paper, cardboard and flexible packaging, the picture does not improve. Certainly for Italy some sectors are growing, as in the case of corrugated cardboard widely used by e-commerce platforms. Here, production is flying with +12.7% in the first nine months of 2021. Another help comes from the green transition that calls for biodegradability, recyclability and lightness of packaging, even those used for food products. However, even in these sectors there are difficulties in passing on increases in energy and raw material costs downstream, with an inevitable heavy effect on the economic viability of the business and the difficulty of finding paper and other raw materials. Several companies producing corrugated cartons have already halted or slowed down their activities due to a lack of paper for production, label manufacturers are at a standstill due to a lack of self-adhesive backings, and folding carton and packaging manufacturers are having to give up or postpone orders. At the country system level, there are more than 3 thousand companies with 60 thousand employees working in a sector worth 7.7 billion and with a trade balance surplus of 1.9 billion. On their activity depends, downstream, the ability to move goods of all kinds, in particular consumer packaged goods found on the shelves of supermarkets, pharmacies and shops in general. If the paper sector, as demonstrated in the midst of the pandemic, is recognised as strategic and essential for the country, then it must be made the subject of targeted measures to safeguard it from a potentially dangerous production stoppage.

di Enrico Netti
3 febbraio 2022

Allarme cartotecnica: a rischio la produzione di cartoni, imballaggi e libri

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