In Depth

China’s Growing Influence

China as a paper buyer
In the past several years China’s demand for paper has grown significantly and with it, the demand for wood fiber to produce it. The links between the U.S. and China have grown in scenario as well:

  • Substantial volumes of Chinese paper enter the U.S. market in the form of packaging.

  • China is the largest buyer of recovered paper in the world and the U.S. market is the largest supplier of recovered fiber.
  • The production capacity of China is expected to grow rapidly over the next 10 years, while U.S. capacity will remain flat. As a result, China could be in a position to export significant volumes of paper to the U.S.

While these linkages have taken shape in a relatively short time, they have important implications. Given China’s lack of forest resources, its continued need for paper products has implications for the global pulp and recovered fiber markets, in addition to profound environmental and land use consequences in China.

China as a paper producer

The paper market in China is evolving rapidly, and China is significantly adding fiber production and processing capacity. China is also consuming a large and growing quantity of recycled fiber. While most paper currently entering the U.S. from China is in the form of packaging for other imported products, China is positioning itself to become a significant producer in the global paper market.

Those interested in the environmental aspects of the paper they use should consider a number of issues, regardless of where the paper or packaging products are produced. Related to paper products originating in China, challenges include:

  • The quality of recovered fiber and price stability
  • The forest practices associated with pulp imports and fiber sourced from plantation forests; and,
  • Environmental performance—compliance performance as well as water, toxics, and energy related impacts of manufacturing paper products.

What consumers can do
A proactive first step for environmentally responsible buyers of paper and paper packaging is to examine these issues in depth–with a life cycle perspective as a framework–and examine the full set of environmental impacts of their choices when considering China as a source of paper products.

For a list of envrionmental performance characteristics to consider across the supply chain of paper see the Paper Life Cycle section about the Environmental Paper Assessment Tool (EPAT) here.