In the hangars, work is already underway around the machines, two monsters of iron and sheet metal that press the paper pulp and dry it, to release giant reels of paper nine meters wide.
Temporary offices have also been set up outside to accommodate the service providers who will be responsible for transforming the oldest of the two machines, so that it produces corrugated cardboard for packaging from the end of 2023.
For the moment, it is time to prepare the piping and the buildings: the workers are instructed to stop the machine as late as possible, so as not to penalize the factory’s activity too much.
The manufacturer announces that its annual production capacity of 558,000 tonnes of newsprint will drop to only 330,000 tonnes, but it will be able to manufacture an additional 555,000 tonnes of recycled cardboard.
The Norwegian group Norske Skog has invested 250 million euros for this project, also supported by the government recovery plan: it is counting on the cardboard market, which is booming thanks to the success of online commerce, to boost its profitability.
On the contrary, the consumption of newsprint has fallen considerably in recent years, the paper press gradually losing ground in the face of information in digital format.
The Golbey plant is also the last to produce it in France, while the other papermakers have gradually abandoned newsprint in favor of cardboard.
– Sheets at a gold price –
This strategy of the “last of the Mohicans” nevertheless allows him today to take advantage of an extraordinary rise in prices. Because in one year, the price of a tonne of newsprint has doubled: it sold in May between 780 and 950 euros, against 400 to 440 euros in the same period last year, according to the price assessment agency Fastmarkets.
The surge in prices is primarily linked to the imbalance between supply and demand, since the production of newsprint has fallen rapidly in relation to the needs of the press, after having been in overcapacity for a long time.
“The market is artificially tense”, summarizes for AFP Yves Bailly, the president of the factory.
Rising prices are also linked to rising costs: since the end of the confinements, the rapid economic recovery has created supply and transport difficulties, and pushed up the price of wood and recycled paper.
To turn the huge heating rollers that dry the paper pulp, you need a lot of energy, the price of which is skyrocketing, especially since the start of the war in Ukraine.
“When a company like ours consumes one million megawatt hours per year, each variation of one euro in the price per megawatt hour gives us a variation of one million euros in our income statement”, explains Mr. Bailly.
“In some months, we passed more than 100 euros in increase (for a ton of paper, editor’s note) simply linked to energy”, he adds.
A situation that alarms press publishers: the Alliance for General Information Press (Apig) has asked the State to grant it financial aid as part of the resilience plan, after many newspapers including Le Figaro , Liberation or Le Monde had to increase their prices on newsstands.
However, Mr. Bailly does not intend to increase the rate of his factory and produce more, because the additional tons of paper would cost too much. “You cannot sell at a loss to satisfy customers,” he says.
In the next few years, if the transition to cardboard works well, he even believes that a total abandonment of newsprint would be “conceivable”. “The remaining machine is a good customer for a future conversion, but I don’t know if I’ll still be around to do that.”