In the last French newsprint factory, cardboard is the future

posted on Sunday 05.06.2022 at 12:11.

Miles of newspapers stretched out between huge cylinders seem to roll indefinitely at the Norske Skog factory in Golbey in the Vosges. However, the last plant in France, which produces newsprint, is about to leave part of its production and switch to cardboard.

The hangars are already working around machines, two monsters made of iron and sheet metal, which press the pulp and dry it to release giant paper rolls nine meters wide.

Temporary offices have also been set up outside for service providers, who will be responsible for transforming the oldest of the two machines to produce corrugated cardboard for packaging from the end of 2023.

At this point, it is time to set up the pipelines and buildings: workers are instructed to stop the machine as late as possible so as not to penalize the factory too much.

The manufacturer announces that its annual production capacity of 558,000 tons of newsprint will drop to just 330,000 tons, but will be able to produce another 555,000 tons of recycled cardboard.

The Norwegian group Norske Skog has invested 250 million euros in this project, which is also supported by the government’s recovery plan: it expects the cardboard market, which is booming thanks to the success of online commerce, to increase profitability.

On the other hand, the consumption of newsprint has fallen sharply in recent years, with paper printing gradually losing ground in the face of information in digital format.

The Golbey plant is also the last to produce it in France, while other stationers have gradually abandoned newsprint in favor of cardboard.

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Nevertheless, this “last Mohican” strategy allows him to take advantage of the extraordinary rise in prices today. Because the price of a tonne of newsprint has doubled in one year: according to Fastmarkets, it sold for 780 to 950 euros in May, compared to 400 to 440 euros in the same period last year.

The sharp rise in prices is mainly due to the imbalance between supply and demand, as newsprint production has fallen rapidly in relation to printing needs after a long period of overcapacity.

“The market is artificially tight,” Yves Bailly, the factory’s president, told AFP.

Rising prices are also associated with rising costs: since the end of the cut, the rapid economic recovery has caused supply and transport problems and increased the price of wood and recycled paper.

To turn huge heating rollers that dry pulp, you need a lot of energy, the price of which is skyrocketing, especially since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

“When a company like ours consumes one million megawatt-hours a year, every change of one euro in the price per megawatt-hour will cause us to change by one million euros in the income statement,” explains Mr Bailly.

“In some months, we have overcome an increase of more than 100 euros (per tonne of paper, ed. Note) simply linked to energy,” he adds.

Situation that worries press publishers: The Alliance for General Information Press (Apig) has asked the state for financial assistance under the resilience plan after many newspapers, including Le Figaro, Liberation and Le Monde, had to raise their prices at newsstands. .

However, Mr. Bailly does not intend to increase the pace of his factory and produce more, because another ton of paper would cost too much. “You can’t sell at a loss to satisfy customers,” he says.

In the coming years, if the transition to cardboard works well, he even believes that it would be “conceivable” to abandon newsprint altogether. “The remaining machine is a good customer for future rebuilding, but I don’t know if I will do it again.”

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