NOTicolas Mayer-Rossignol, mayor (Socialist Party) of Rouen and president of the Rouen-Normandy Metropolis, could be proud, Tuesday, May 10, when he handed the keys of the Chapelle-Darblay factory to its new buyer, the Veolia group , associated with the pulp manufacturer Fiber Excellence. The same morning, he had officially bought this very symbolic factory from the Finnish paper group UPM. Symbolic, because the repeated setbacks of this Norman unit tell of both the decline of French industry, that of the paper press, its main client, and the difficulties of the circular economy.
Until 2019, the Chapelle-Darblay factory produced nearly a quarter of the newsprint in France and for this recycled 40% of the paper content of yellow bins in France. A difficult industry, which over the decades has seen French companies gradually lose ground in favor of the great specialists of northern Europe. The Chapelle-Darblay group filed for bankruptcy for the first time in 1980.
Having become the new symbol of the workers’ struggle, the company, which supplied more than 80% of the newsprint in France, was saved by the public authorities (thanks in particular to a certain Laurent Fabius, a local elected official), then sold for a symbolic franc, in 1987, to businessman François Pinault. This one yields three years later, and after new subsidies, the company to the Swedish Stora and the Finnish Kymmene, with a nice capital gain. In 2019, the latter, which became UPM, threw in the towel in the face of the collapse of the print media market and announced the closure of the site and the dismissal of its 230 employees.
Thin profit margins
Once again, the community comes to the aid of this mythical site. But this time, a sign of the times, no longer in the name of job preservation, but of ecology. The Rouen-Normandy metropolis opposes a sale project which provided for the conversion of activities and the end of recycling, exercised its right of first refusal, bought the site and resold it the same day to Veolia.
Thus, a unit will be maintained in France combining both the recovery of paper and its recycling into corrugated cardboard, a growing market with the rise of online commerce. This will avoid shipping our waste paper to distant lands, since there are no other units of this type in France. The circular economy will therefore really be… provided that the economy works.
There are already two other cardboard factories in France. There is not sure to be room for everyone and profit margins are already thin, while the economic situation is darkening. This raises the question of the insertion into the market economy of the circular economy and its effects on the rest of the industry. Still a little work in perspective for the city councilor of Rouen and a subject of reflection for all those who dream of planning the ecological transition.
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