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New York Times Misses the Point on Paper Recycling

A recent article in The New York Times explored Maine’s dramatic new recycling law. But it also missed the point on paper recycling. In a letter to the editor, AF&PA responded to set the record straight:

Telling readers the U.S. “recycling rate for plastics and paper products” is 32 percent is like telling them the average elevation of Denver and Death Valley is about half a mile. It may be technically true, but it clouds over more than it reveals. Whatever is true of plastic, the fact is that for all paper, the recycling rate was 66 percent in 2020. The recycling rate for paper-based packaging specifically—like cardboard boxes and corrugated containers—was a whopping 89 percent. In fact, more paper is recycled by weight from municipal waste streams than plastic, glass, steel and aluminum combined.

In the context of a story about proposals in several jurisdictions that would turn our current recycling system on its head, these distinctions matter a great deal. Extended producer responsibility programs would disrupt the most effective recycling streams in the interest of improving the least effective, while imposing large new costs on producers who are already being responsible by investing capital to innovate and use a highly renewable and recyclable material—paper.

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