Cellulosic packaging (2021)

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According to Assografici’s economic analysis for 2021, the converting industry - in which the paper and cardboard packaging sector falls - after a positive fourth and third quarter, closes with a 9.6% increase in turnover, also surpassing 2019 levels. Even better is the trend in production, which registers +10.6%.

Barbara Iascone
Istituto Italiano Imballaggio

An ever-evolving sector that, of paper and cardboard packaging that even in 2020, despite the strongly negative trend of both manufacturing in general and competitor packaging, recorded excellent results at the production level, largely confirmed in 2021.
Cellulosic packaging is among the most representative types of the entire packaging industry: 33% in terms of tons, about 23% in relation to turnover, with constant%ages over time. 


According to “Packaging in Figures,” a publication prepared by the Italian Packaging Institute in collaboration with trade associations, cellulosic packaging is divided between: 

  • Corrugated cardboard sheets and containers (including displays); 
  • Cartons and folding carton boxes; 
  • Large paper bags; 
  • Other packaging (drums, tubes, wrapping paper, small bags and shoppers, labels,   paper backings for the knitting and clothing industry, etc.);
  • Paper-dominant laminated rigid containers.
Table 1. Monographic sheet of the cellulosic packaging sector (2007-2021).
  2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 Δ 21/20
Turnover MLN/euro 7,380 7,315 6,450 7,040 7,455 7,210 7,174 7,410 7,590 7,740 7,921 8,137 8,288 8,054 9,054 12.40%
Production t/000 5,435 5,212 4,839 5,145 5,075 4,856 4,876 4,985 5,081 5,196 5,337 5,412 5,491 5,555 6,132 10.40%
Export (t/000) 460 459 443 502 518 521 532 557 561 591 612 630 635 614 678 10.40%
Import (t/000) 106 115 100 110 114 124 112 130 130 148 155 157 227 147 168 14.30%
Apparent use (t/000)  5,081 4,868 4,496 4,753 4,671 4,459 4,456 4,558 4,650 4,753 4,880 4,939 5,083 5,088 5,622 10.50%
Source: elaborazioni Istituto Italiano Imballaggio

The cellulosic packaging market in Italy

After positively surpassing 2020, registering an overall production growth of 1.1% compared to 2019, in 2021 the sector confirms the positive trend: in 2021, in fact, the total production of paper and cardboard packaging marked a +10.4%, surpassing the threshold of 6,130 t/000. Foreign trade also shows a positive trend: exports grow by +10.4%, with 678 t/000, and with 168 t/000, imports stand at +14.3%. The trend of turnover is good, with a positive trend, closing 2021 at +12.4%, or more than 9 billion euros.

Looking at foreign trade, it can be seen that trade relations are predominantly expressed within Europe, in line with all other types of packaging. In fact, in 2021, 86.7% of Italian imports are of European origin, as are 87.5% of exports: a substantially stable distribution from one year to the next, with Germany and France remaining our most loyal partners.

As far as world trade is concerned, 93% is imported from China, which remains the absolute protagonist, while non-EU exports are directed about 72% to Africa.

Returning to Italy, the price quotations of raw materials for cellulosic packaging, in 2021 have been reversed. In fact, compared to previous years, they are all on the rise; on the other hand, raw materials from recycling are on the decline.

The types of paper and paperboard packaging

Corrugated cardboard boxes

This material is mostly used for the production of boxes for transport and storage of goods or as secondary packaging. This type of packaging is the most representative of the category, with 73% share: in 2021 it exceeded 4,400 t/000, with a trend of +12%. For a few years now, the industry’s production growth has been influenced by the development of e-commerce on the push of the 2020 health emergency, then consolidated in 2021 thanks to the post-pandemic recovery and the general increase recorded for the production activity of the Italian industry. The recovery of industrial production stimulated by the renewed drive for consumption has led to an increase in demand for corrugated boxes used for goods handling. Imports are up significantly (+17.9%) and exports are also growing in double digits (+10.8%), reaching 33,000 and 348,000 tons, respectively.

Folded carton cases and boxes

Folded carton packaging accounts for 14.3% of the cellulosic packaging sector. They can be composed of 100% paperboard or combined with PE film or aluminum film. The combination of plastic film or aluminum film is usually necessary to give the carton a more attractive appearance, such as is the case with those used in the cosmetics sector, or for special requirements related to use. The very slight decline recorded in 2020 was largely absorbed in 2021; in fact, the sector closed the year with a 7% growth, bringing the tons of folding cartonboard produced in Italy to about 876 t/000. Foreign trade also recorded positive trends (import at +9.1%; export at +6.8%). Primarily used as secondary packaging, cartons account for 45.1% for food, 18.6% for beverage (with a positive growth trend for both segments), and 10.3% for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. The remaining 26.1% can be attributed to the “other non-food” item, within which includes, for example, small and large household appliances, cookware and kitchen utensils, household cleaning products, furniture products and accessories, etc.

Large paper sacks

This type of packaging is mostly used in the building/construction sector. According to Gipsac elaborations-one of Assografici’s Specialization Groups-this type of packaging in 2021 also had a complete recovery of the losses recorded in 2020: the sector grew by 9.1%, bringing large paper sacks produced in Italy to about 218 t/000. This result was achieved thanks to the recovery of the construction sector, which resulted in a great demand for material packaged in this type of packaging.

Other cellulosic packaging

This item includes different types of packaging, namely cellulose drums and tubes for packaging bottles, cellulosic tubes for household paper, wrapping paper, parchment paper, corrugated paper, small bags, shoppers, automatic wrappers, paper sheets for garment support, labels, platforms and displays made of folding carton and cardboard, etc. In general, good performance of the “other” segment, which shows a positive trend in production of +4.2% in 2021, reaching about 407 t/000.

Paper-dominant rigid laminated containers

We also include paper-dominant laminated packaging in this analysis. After experiencing a period of stability, as early as 2020 the sector showed an important ferment at the production level with +6%, confirmed in 2021 with +3%.

Table 2. Evolution of production in the cellulosic packaging sector, divided by type (data expressed in t/000).
  2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 Δ 21/20
Corrugated cardboard 3,837 3,705 3,485 3,677 3,613 3,473 3,498 3,570 3,620 3,719 3,791 3,886 3,933 4,000 4,479 12.00%
Flat cardboard 780 759 688 745 747 707 700 731 764 769 783 790 821 819 876 7.00%
Sacks 215 201 185 198 198 182 191 195 189 187 195 197 203 200 218 9.00%
Paper laminated 132 132 131 135 137 134 132 136 139 139 139 139 139 147 152 3.40%
Other (1) 471 415 350 390 380 360 355 353 369 382 401 400 395 389 407 4.60%
Total 5,435 5,212 4,839 5,145 5,075 4,856 4,876 4,985 5,081 5,196 5,309 5,412 5,491 5,555 6,132 10.40%

1)In 2017 a new survey method was introduced

Source: elaborazioni Istituto Italiano Imballaggio

Recycling of cellulosic packaging

According to data from COMIECO, a consortium of the CONAI System that is responsible for ensuring and promoting precisely the recycling of paper and cardboard packaging, the 2021 results were excellent: more than 3.6 million tons collected, with a growth of 3.2% compared to 2020.

Find out more information about the companies mentioned in this article and published in the Buyers' Guide - PackBook by ItaliaImballaggio
ASSOGRAFICI (Italian national association of paper converting and converting industries)
COMIECO (National consortium for the recovery and recycling of cellulose-based packaging)
Istituto Italiano Imballaggio