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2 March, 2018 00:00 00 AM
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Our Paper Industry

By Bipul K Debnath
Our Paper Industry

The paper industry has become a successful sector in Bangladesh and it has a great potential to become one of the country’s major foreign currency earners, experts say. After readymade garments (RMG) and leather industry, this sector is playing a vital role in our national economy. Private paper mills are producing export-oriented paper products. After meeting the local demand, they have started exporting to 40 countries, bringing in large amounts of foreign currency. According to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), paper product exports totalled USD 920,488 in the last fiscal year (2016-2017). This week, The Weekend Independent talked to some officials and entrepreneurs regarding the state of our paper industry.

At present, there are about 100 private paper mills in the country, with production capacity of 1.5 million (15 lakh) metric tons a year on average, said Mustafizur Rahman, chairman, export standing committee of Bangladesh Paper Mills Association (BPMA). By implementing modern technology, new entrepreneurs are investing a huge amount of money in the sector, and foreign buyers are also coming to Bangladesh to import paper products because of the good quality, he added.

There are three state-owned paper mills in the country, including Khulna Newsprint Mill (KNM) near Khalishpur, Pakshi North Bengal Paper Mills at Ishwardi in Pabna, and Karnaphuli Paper Mills (KPM) in Chittagong. Among them, only KPM, the largest paper factory in Bangladesh, is still in operation. It was established at Chandraghona of Chittagong district in 1953. But the mill is facing challenges due to shortages of raw materials used for manufacturing paper and pulp, such as bamboo and softwood from the local forests.

“The production capacity of Karnaphuli has reduced and it is facing huge losses now. The government should take proper steps to save this important paper mill of our country,” said Shafiqul Islam Varosa, president of Bangladesh Paper Importers’ Association (BPIA).

Regarding import of paper products, the BPIA president said local production is sufficient for writing, printing and newsprint purposes, so, there is no need to import those types of paper. “We mainly import all sorts of packaging papers for readymade garments, food items, medicines and other consumer products, mostly from Japan, (South) Korea, China, Indonesia and India, and some from America (USA) and European countries. The total amount of imports was 10 lakh (1 million) metric tons last year, and it is increasing this year. After a few months, we will know the exact figures for the year,” he said.

“Now some private paper mills are producing different types of export-quality soft tissue paper, security papers and paper cups, and they have started exporting those items,” Varosa added. “But to maintain the quality, we are now dependent on imported raw materials.”

Mahamudur Kabir, executive officer of Swiss Quality Paper Limited, said, “As a producer of paper products, we are hopeful of this industry. But the condition of the sector is not good, and it is undergoing huge problems.”

As to the need for importing raw materials, which can be a drawback in developing our paper industry, Kabir explained: “In the past, the local paper mills used local raw materials, including softwood, bamboo and other fibres. People used the locally made paper for writing and other work. They were not bothered about the quality. But now, customers are very conscious about the quality of products they buy. For that reason, we have to import pulps to maintain the standard of our products. Thus, the production cost has increased rapidly. Besides, the peak trading period for the paper industry is November to January. The rest of the year, most paper mills remain shut. So, investors find it difficult to survive in this industry.”

Demand for locally produced paper increases in winter as school textbooks are printed for the new academic year, and new publications hit the market for annual book fairs in February across the country.

Kazi Shah Alam, vice-chairman of Bangladesh Publishers and Booksellers Association, said: “We use recycled paper as raw material in our paper mills. So, the finishing of our locally produced papers is not that good. We use two types of raw materials, which includes pulps and recycled paper. We get paper for recycling from local sources and we import pulps. And because of that, the production capacity of private paper mills has increased.”  

“However, the bookselling and publishing market (in the private sector) has declined in our country as the government is providing textbooks for free from classes 1 to 9. But we publish books for children and textbooks for higher education. And of course, publishing books ahead of Ekushey book fair (in February) is one of our main targets. For the annual event, we get to print a large number of books,” Alam said.

“This time, printing of books went on in full swing in our factories. Our association president has already thanked the Bangla Academy fair committee for expanding the (Ekushey) book fair premises and ensuring a good environment for buying and selling of books. We are hopeful our profits will be good this year,” he added.

About introducing innovative technology in this sector, Mohammad Sarwar Jahan, chief scientific officer of Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR), said, “We must protect our nature, and so we must not set up any factories disturbing the environment. Thus, we have introduced some environment-friendly technology to improve the quality of our locally made papers. We advise entrepreneurs in this sector to implement the new techniques. And of course, it will also help them to produce export-quality paper products, and make huge profits. We are also developing technology to produce improved pulp in our country. It will reduce production cost. We have already talked to some industrialists and they approve our new technology. So, a better future is coming to this sector soon.”

New technologies used in the paper industry include organic acid pulping fractionation of agricultural waste, potassium hydroxide based pulping as a biorefinery concept, and fast-growing native species pulping under social forestry programme, Jahan added.

The biggest wholesale market for paper in the capital is located at Naya Bazar in Old Dhaka. The place remains abuzz with traders from morning till late at night. People throng there from different parts of the country to buy various types of paper and paper products.

While talking about the trade, Jaku Mia, proprietor of Mostafa Paper House, told this correspondent, “The production of writing and printing papers in our country is sufficient now. But the production cost is increasing for some reasons. New entrepreneurs are coming to invest in this sector. So, I see a good future.”

Besides dealing in local paper products, the 60-year-old trader also imports special  types of papers as per demand: “I import art paper from China, but I hope I will not need to import this kind of item in the future as a number of local paper mills have started producing it.”

Along with other paper mills of the country, Bashundhara Paper Mills has started exporting paper products in recent years. Mustafizur Rahman, deputy managing director (paper sector) of Bashundhara Group, said: “The paper industry is no longer limited to writing and printing in this day and age. Once, our country was dependent on importing paper products. We now have very modern paper mills and they are producing a large amount of products. We have already received huge support from our local customers.”

“We have also started to export paper products to 40 countries. Our products include A3, A4 and legal-sized papers, exercise books and industrial paper, and hygiene products, like toilet paper, paper napkin, facial tissue, kitchen towel, pocket tissue, paper towel, clinical bed sheets and jumbo roll tissue,” Rahman said about the company’s exports.

Paper mills usually consume a huge amount of water. Thus, a water treatment plant is mandatory to reduce water consumption. “We must expand our industry. But for that, we must not harm the environment. The production of one ton of paper consumes 90 tons of water. To reduce water usage and protect nature, every one of our paper mills has a proper effluent treatment plant (ETP). We have qualified engineers to monitor the ETPs regularly. We also use modern machinery in our mills. So, our products are in demand in foreign countries,” he said.

Giving importance to increasing investment in this sector, Mustafizur Rahman added: “We always inspire our association members to increase investment in this sector as it has huge potentiality.”  

These days, the use of disposable paper cups, plates and boxes has become popular, especially among fast food outlets and street vendors. Regarding the challenges faced by the paper product industry, Kazi Sazedur Rahman, owner of KPC Industry that makes hygienic, biodegradable paper cups, plates and other food service packaging items, said: “The market for paper cups and plates in our country is not that big. We should make our consumers familiar with these environment-friendly paper products so they start using them. For that, we have to reduce the price first.”

“We import the raw materials. The government should reduce the huge import duty on raw materials. Otherwise, it will be difficult to compete with the plastic industry. The widespread use of plastic cups and polybags limits the demand for our environment-friendly paper products,” Sazedur  Rahman added. The Dhaka-based company has the capacity to produce 15 million cups and plates on average every month, according to its website.

Printing Industries Association of Bangladesh (PIAB) is an important platform for entrepreneurs in the printing and packaging sector of our country. Zahurul Islam, general secretary of PIAB, recommends that private paper mill owners use new and modern machinery to ensure good quality of their products.

“The largest companies in our country import reconditioned machines. They say  new machinery costs a huge amount of money. But they should consider the quality and demand first. They will profit more if they import new machines and install those in their paper mills,” Islam said.

Photos: Courtesy, Internet.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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