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Australian pulp production falls to seventeen year low

Australia’s pulp production fell to a seventeen year low in 2022-23, deteriorating to 1.2 million tonnes as hardwood pulp production all-but ceased. Over the decade ended June, virgin fibre pulp production was down an average 1.3% per annum.

Pulp is produced at just three facilities in Australia: Visy’s Tumut Mill in NSW, Opal’s Maryvale Mill in Victoria and Norske Skog’s Boyer Mill in Tasmania. Since the effective closure of access to native forests in Victoria and the related cessation of hardwood pulping, the Visy and Opal mills are entirely focussed on packaging production. The Boyer mill manufactures newsprint, other lighter-weight printing papers and coated papers used in magazines, catalogues and brochures.

In 2022-23, local production of pulp was supplemented with imports totalling around 0.3 million tonnes, reaching a new record. Imports are mainly for the tissue sector and for the strengthening agent in cement board products (proving that not all cement and concrete products are entirely bad!)

The end result is that Australia’s use of fibre to manufacture paper and paperboard products is swinging increasingly towards recovered fibre and emphasising growth in pulp imports, rather than production.

The index chart below shows these interacting market dynamics.

Source: IndustryEdge, 2023 Pulp & Paper Strategic Reviews

By contrast, to the utilisation of virgin fibre pulp, recovered fibre utilisation was an average 0.5% higher over the decade. 2022-23 saw recovered paper – nearly all of which is used for corrugated packaging manufacturing – lift to 1.7 million tonnes, marginally below the record set in 2019-20.

This data all feeds into an equally important point. In aggregate, over the decade, total fibre use in Australia was stable at around 3.3 million tonnes.

Paper and paperboard output balances have changed over the decade. There is much less printing and communication paper manufactured locally – far less newsprint, no copy paper, very little ‘commercial’ paper like that for forms and so on. There is significantly more corrugated packaging being produced.

That simple fact of Australian consumption has altered the balances of fibre use in Australia, in a manner now set in stone.

Looking ahead, virgin pulp production will continue at around 1.2 million tonnes per annum. The mainland production of close to 1.0 million tonnes is secured by ever-expanding corrugated packaging consumption. The use of recovered fibre will continue to grow and the tissue sector’s growth (which is directly linked to population growth) will see pulp imports continue to rise.

Posted Date: November 8, 2023

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