Wastepaper is abundantly available in India. Yet the Indian paper industry depends heavily on imports. MONALI ZEYA HAZRA finds out why

But virgin fibre resources are fast depleting all over the world. So recycling paper makes much more sense; it also requires about 20-25 per cent less electricity and 50 per cent less steam. Therefore, about 35 per cent of the paper manufactured throughout the world today is actually recycled fibre. According to the Saharanpur-based Central Pulp and Paper Research Institute (CPPRI) wastepaper makes up about 31 per cent of all raw materials used by Indian paper industry (see pie chart: Wood still dominates). So our paper sector is not doing badly by overall global standards. However, it is nowhere near the levels attained by many developed countries (See table: We fare poorly). Moreover, let us also not forget that we import most of our wastepaper requirements -- as much as 79 per cent, according to CPPRI's 2002 figures. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization says that India spent US $116. 06 on wastepaper imports in 2001.

Down to Earth
Don't we have other alternatives? In the 1970s the government did promote agro-residue as a substitute to bamboo and wood. Consequently, paper factories using agro-residue as raw material mushroomed all over the country -- according to IARPMA there are 145 of them now. On the face of it, promoting agro-residue was not a bad idea; after all it is as abundantly available as wastepaper. But this availability is also seasonal; in addition, storing agro-residue over long periods is a troublesome proposition; so is transporting it over long distances. Moreover, we do not have viable technologies to process black liquor -- a wastewater with very high biochemical oxygen and chemical oxygen demand, generated when agro-residue is pulped.
So wastepaper again The ubiquitous wastepaper does not have the limitations of agro-residue. So why has it not emerged as a viable alternative to bamboo? Primarily because wastepaper recovery rates in India are very low. Estimates of how much wastepaper Indian industry actually manages to recover vary: according to the CPPRI's 1999 data this is about 18 per cent; the Indian Paper Mills Association puts this figure at 20 per cent -- the association reckons that wastepaper recovery has increased from 650,000 tonnes to 850,000 tonnes in 2000. Anyhow India's wastepaper recovery rate pales in comparison with international trends. The Netherlands for example has achieved a recovery rate of 78.3 per cent while paper industries in Japan and South Korea respectively recycle 55.7 and 70.5 per cent of the wastepaper made available to them.

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