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Before paper as we know it existed, people communicated through pictures and symbols carved into tree bark, painted on cave walls, and marked on papyrus or clay tablets.

About 2,000 years ago, inventors in China took communication to the next level, crafting cloth sheets to record their drawings and writings. And paper, as we know it today, was born!

Paper was first made in Lei-Yang, China by Ts'ai Lun, a Chinese court official. In all likelihood, Ts'ai mixed mulberry bark, hemp and rags with water, mashed it into pulp, pressed out the liquid and hung the thin mat to dry in the sun.

During the 8th century, about 300 years after Ts’ai’s discovery, the secret traveled to the region that is now the Middle East. Yet, it took another 500 years for papermaking to enter Europe. One of the first paper mills was built in Spain, and soon, paper was being made at mills all across Europe.

Then, with paper easier to make, paper was used for printing important books, bibles, and legal documents.

England began making large supplies of paper in the late 15th century and supplied the colonies with paper for many years.

Finally, in 1690, the first U.S. paper mill was built in Pennsylvania.

At first American paper mills used the Chinese method of shredding old rags and clothes into individual fibers to make paper.

But, as the demand for paper grew, the mills changed to using fiber from trees because wood was less expensive and more abundant than cloth.

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Explore forest product industry innovations and research from the 2022-2023 U.S Blue Sky Young Researchers Innovation Award winners.

The Paper Industry Today

Today, paper is made from trees grown in sustainably managed forests and from recycled paper.

Recycling has always been a part of papermaking.

When you recycle your used paper, paper mills will use it to make new notebook paper, paper grocery bags, cardboard boxes, envelopes, magazines, cartons, newspapers and other paper products.

Everything You Need to Know About Paper Recycling

Paper is one of the most widely recycled materials in the U.S. Nearly 50 million tons of paper was recovered for recycling in 2022. That amount could fill rail cars stretching from New York to Los Angeles nearly 3 times!

And, the paper recycling rate has met or exceeded 63% every year since 2009!

The paper industry uses recycled paper the make the essential products millions of people rely on every day. In fact, about 80% of U.S. paper mills use some recycled paper to make new and innovative products.

Dive deeper into how the paper industry is improving paper recycling.

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Dive Into Recycling Innovations

Learn more about AF&PA member projects aimed at improving recycling technology and using more recycled fiber.

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Paper Recycling Facts

Learn more about the paper and cardboard recycling rates, where recycled paper goes and more resources. 

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Learn How to Recycle Paper 

Want to know how to recycle address window envelopes or paper-padded mailers? We've got you covered. 

Get to Know the People Behind Our Industry

The forest products industry is a major national employer. While employing about 925,000 in the industry, more than 2 million indirect jobs are supported.

Hear more from the people driving innovation and helping shape future generations of industry leaders.

Hong Wilcoxon is wearing glasses and a polo. She's standing outside in front of plants.

Hong Wilcoxon

Dive into what Wilcoxon does as a quality manager at Domtar's Engineered Absorbent Materials facility in Jesup, Georgia.

Lisa Berghaus smiling

Lisa Berghaus

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Photo of Jenny Tang inspecting a roll of toilet paper.

Jenny Tang

Learn how Jenny Tang of Essity uses her STEM background to advance the industry.

Tony Diaz stands in front of a log pile

Tony Diaz

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Photo of Tony Murphy working at paper mill

Tony Murphy

Find out what gets Tony Murphy of International Paper excited about the industry's future.

Headshot of Rafael Garcia

Rafael Garcia

Explore why Rafael Garcia of Georgia-Pacific believes environmental stewardship requires creating more value while using fewer resources.