Graphic paper troubles: Not just a North American problem
May 29, 2013
Rapid on-going decline in the production of Canadian graphic papers (that is, printing & writing paper and newsprint), primarily driven by a shift in consumer demand toward electronic media, has been well documented in recent years. It is clear from looking at the data that the same phenomenon has been occurring in the U.S. and Europe as well.
Graphic paper production in North America and Northwestern Europe (1961-2011)
In Canada, the U.S. and Northwestern Europe, graphic paper production began expanding steadily at a rate of approximately 1 million tonnes per year in the early 1960s. However, total production in North America levelled off in 1994, and began a precipitous decline of just over 2 million tonnes per year in 2004. Northwestern European expansion continued as its earlier rate until 2004, however, and then began to fall at just under 2 million tonnes per year beginning in 2007. North American and European experiences of declining demand for graphic paper seem to be very similar, with the exception that the European peak was delayed by a decade relative to North America, and the length of their production plateau was shortened. It seems likely that the delay in European decline was caused by the relatively wide range of per capita incomes within Europe. Subject to cultural factors, paper consumption increases with income, but declines with income past a certain point (due to the ability of relatively wealth consumers to switch to electronic media options). While some of the less affluent European countries remained below this tipping point, paper production was able to continue to expand after relatively wealthier North America had already started to decline.
This has left the graphic paper sector on both continents noticeably smaller: North American production is down to levels not seen since the late 1970s, while Northwestern Europe is down to mid-1990s levels. Given the on-going European recession, it is likely that their rate of decline will accelerate, potentially bringing them even closer to North American decline levels within a few years.