Paper Recovery for Recycling: A New Record Rate

May 08, 2019

By Brian Hawkinson

Executive Director, Recovered Fiber 

In 2018, the U.S. paper recovery for recycling rate reached a record 68.1 percent as compared to 65.9 percent in 2017 and 67.2 percent in 2016.

This is great news for the environment and for our industry! We have a goal to exceed 70 percent paper recovery for recycling by 2020 and are constantly doing our part to improve the quantity and quality of paper recovered for recycling.

The U.S. paper recovery rate has more than doubled since our industry committed to setting and achieving paper recovery goals in 1990. In addition, the rate has been at or above 63 percent each year for the past decade.

What exactly is the paper recovery for recycling rate? 

The paper recovery for recycling rate is a metric used to convey how much of the paper used in the U.S. is recycled into new products in a given period—one year (2018), in this case.

The rate is calculated using AF&PA data on the amount of recovered paper used to make new paper and paperboard by U.S. paper mills and U.S. Census Bureau data on net recovered paper exports, and comparing that total to the amount of paper and paperboard used in the U.S. over the same time period. This calculation methodology is consistent with those used by major U.S. trading partners around the world.

The rate informs us how much paper is kept out of landfills after use and is an important indicator of how much recovered paper is being used to create new products.

A global, in-demand commodity

Notwithstanding the recent volatility in overall recycling markets, paper recovery for recycling continues to be a success because it is market driven.

Supply, demand, and global economics all play a role in how much paper is ultimately recovered for recycling. Recovered paper markets are driven by the same dynamics that characterize the broader economy.

Using recovered paper to manufacture new products takes place around the world and the market determines where recovered paper goes—whether it will be used by U.S. mills or exported and used in other countries.

Fortunately, markets for recovered paper are very resilient.  In the past two years, our industry has increased its use of recovered paper to make new products by 3.3 percent and announced manufacturing capacity expansions that will use additional recovered paper. And, our export markets have fully recovered from China’s abrupt decision to cut off recycled paper imports from the U.S.

Increasing and improving paper recovery for recycling

The industry aims to increase the quantity and quality of paper recovered for recycling, realizing that there is more to be recovered and to ensure high recovery rates are maintained.

Not only are we invested in reaching our goal to exceed 70 percent recovery; paper recovery is a basis as well as a beacon of our industry’s sustainability. We are committed to ensuring that used paper products go to their highest value end use in manufacturing new products.

AF&PA advocates for sound recovery policies, funds The Recycling Partnership to improve community recycling, and develops educational materials to inform audiences on best recycling practices. To learn more about our efforts, visit paperrecycles.org