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Recovery for Recycling of Old Corrugated Containers: Explaining the Exceptional Rate

After dipping from 92.8 percent in 2016 to 88.8 percent in 2017, the U.S. recovery for recycling rate for old corrugated containers (OCC) rebounded to 96.4 percent in 2018.

AF&PA has published annual U.S. recovery rate data for OCC since the introduction of the Corrugated Recycles symbol in 1993. The rate has followed a steady trend upward from 54 percent in 1993 to the current record-high rate. Given the recent volatility in the recycling markets, it is instructive to note the three-year average (2016-2018) is a steady 92.7 percent.

The U.S. OCC recovery for recycling rate is calculated by dividing the U.S. recovery of OCC for recycling by the U.S. apparent consumption of new containerboard (i.e., material used to make corrugated boxes that has not yet converted into boxes) over a given period, usually one year. AF&PA’s calculation of the U.S. OCC recovery for recycling rate is consistent with the calculation methodology used by major U.S. trading partners around the world (e.g., the European Union, Japan).

The 2018 U.S. OCC recovery for recycling rate is the result of multiple factors: 1) U.S. mills used 2.8 percent more OCC in manufacturing; 2) there was a surge of nearly 30 percent in OCC exports; and 3) there was a large trade deficit in consumer goods.

Many of the consumer goods imported into the U.S. arrive in corrugated boxes. These particular boxes are not included in the OCC recovery for recycling rate calculation because there is no reliable data on their volume. If they were factored in, we estimate the OCC recovery rate would be several points lower than 96.4 percent.

In our increasingly globalized economy, recovery rates could exceed 100 percent. Both Western Europe and Japan have reported OCC recovery for recycling rates over 100 percent since the mid-2000s (Fastmarkets RISI, Global OCC Market Outlook, 2016).   

Education initiatives such as those sponsored by AF&PA, Fibre Box Association, The Recycling Partnership, Keep American Beautiful and others are essential to help recover more boxes in the future, especially with the growth in e-commerce driving changes in consumer shopping habits. We hope you’ll join us!

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recyclable resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative —Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future. The forest products industry accounts for approximately 5% of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures about $350 billion in products annually and employs about 925,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of about $65 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 43 states. Visit AF&PA online at or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper