A Chinese woman wears a mask
A Chinese woman wears a mask to protect from pollution particles. | Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
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At play are several factors: China’s decision to no longer be the prime destination for the world’s garbage.

New Delhi: China’s battle against pollution has found an unsuspecting victim in the Indian newspaper industry, already struggling to thrive amid slow economic growth.

At play are several factors: China’s decision to no longer be the prime destination for the world’s garbage, its crackdown on polluting factories, and the closure of facilities to preserve the cleaner-than-coal natural gas amid a shortage. All have come together, along with a stressed domestic industry in India, to send prices of newsprint surging.

Newsprint is the cheap, low-quality paper on which newspapers are printed. Among the raw materials used in the manufacture of newsprint is pulp derived from mixed paper — a mix of different kinds of papers, including newspapers. Mixed paper, so far recycled at Chinese factories into newsprint and other kinds of paper, is one of the 24 kinds of ‘foreign garbage’ Beijing decided to ban in January.

The decision was among a slew of measures taken as China began an aggressive push to combat pollution after its cities, led by Beijing, earned global notoriety on the back of photographs showing a smog-enveloped landscape, the kind also witnessed in Delhi in recent years.

These involved a shutdown of outdated and illegal factories, including several paper mills. Several others halted operations as China’s limited natural gas supply was prioritised for homes in the winter to help families fire heaters amid a ban on coal.

With its own availability of pulp thus compromised, China stepped up imports of pulp as well as newsprint, increasing the demand for a commodity whose supplies have been hit globally amid factory shutdowns over huge losses.

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“China’s ban on the import of mixed paper waste a few months back has led them to import even greater quantities of pulp from across the world, which has led to an increase in demand for pulp globally,” said Rohit Pandit, secretary general of the Indian Paper Manufacturers Association.

Explaining the impact on India, Pandit noted that ours is a fibre-deficient country where the paper industry depends on the import of raw materials. “…Consequently, the cost of production of paper in India is much higher than that in competing countries,” he added.

Add to this the zero import duty on newsprint, which has led buyers to shun the pricier domestic produce over the past few years, further stressing local operations.

“As imports are much cheaper, most of the newsprint factories in India have shut down. The government doesn’t do anything because they feel that the media lobby is stronger and they won’t like it if they raised the import duty of newsprint,” a source said.

Cut to the present — China’s ban on mixed paper imports has boosted their availability at cheap rates for other markets. But this is an advantage India can’t tap as most of the country’s paper mills do not have the facility to convert the mixed paper to pulp. As a result, the majority of Indian paper mills continue to depend on pulp imports.

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