Using Recovered Fiber to Make New Paper and Paper Packaging

Aug 21, 2014

 By Brian Hawkinson
 Executive Director, Recovered Fiber

 The great success of paper recycling in the U.S. is due in large part  to the participation of millions of Americans in recycling programs at  home, work and school. So thank you for recycling your paper and  keep at it! 

 The industry has a goal to exceed 70 percent recovery by 2020 as part of AF&PA’s sustainability initiative Better Practices Better Planet 2020. In 2013, 63.5 percent of the paper and paper-based packaging used in the U.S. was recovered for recycling. That amounts to more than 50 million tons! It’s enough to fill 715,000 railroad boxcars in a train that would stretch from New York City to Los Angeles nearly three times.

Overall, about 37 percent of all the fiber used to make new paper and paper-based packaging in the U.S. is recycled fiber. While that statistic is impressive, I admit it may seem a bit abstract. So let’s bring it to a more personal level. Have you ever wondered where that used piece of paper or empty cookie box goes when you recycle it? 

Depending on the product, it will get made into a similar or different product. For example:

  • Old magazines, residential mixed paper and scrap from facilities that make paperboard boxes (known in the industry as mixed paper) are used to make new tissue, cereal and dry food boxes, and corrugated boxes (the multi-layer brown boxes with a wavy center layer).
  • Old newspapers (including newspaper inserts and newsprint overruns) are used to make new newspapers, tissue and paperboard boxes.
  • Old corrugated boxes (also called old corrugated containers or OCC) are, not surprisingly, mostly used to make new corrugated boxes. They are also used to make Kraft paper for things like grocery and retail store shopping bags.
  • Sorted office paper, ledger paper and book printing overruns (referred to as high grade deinking paper) are used to make new tissue and some new printing-writing paper.
  • Scrap from facilities that make grocery bags, retail shopping bags and other products using sturdy Kraft paper (otherwise known as pulp substitutes), are also primarily used to make new tissue.

So the next time you’re about to put an empty cereal box or a corrugated box from an online purchase delivery into the recycling cart, you will have a pretty good idea what it will become in its next life.