Skip to main content

Recycling During the Pandemic: 2020 Paper and Cardboard Recycling Rates Are In!

Paper Recycling

The 2020 paper recycling rate came in at 65.7% a consistently high rate – down only slightly from 66.2% in 2019.   

Why It Matters

Despite the fact that the pandemic:

  • disrupted manufacturing  
  • affected manufacturing supply chains  
  • fundamentally changed consumer consumption patterns…  

Paper recycling rates remained largely unchanged. This is a testament to the resilience of the paper and wood products industry. 

Between the Lines

The decline was largely the result of a sharp drop (-12.6%) in recovered paper exports, mainly to China as the result of the country’s import restrictions. Recycled paper use at U.S. pulp and paper mills rose 0.9% or 286,000 tons.  

The paper recycling rate measured 33.5% in 1990, which was the base year against which AF&PA began setting its recycling goals.  

Every year since 2009 the paper recycling rate has met or exceeded 63%. 

Recycling Cardboard 

The cardboard recycling rate declined slightly from 92.1% in 2019 to 88.8% in 2020.  

However, the average recycling rate for the three-year period from 2018 to 2020 increased slightly to 92.4%. 

Between the Lines 

The volatility was largely due to changes in trade flows, with net exports of cardboard surging 29.7% in 2018 and then declining 23.7% from 2018 to 2020. 

What You Can Do

Do your part by recycling at home and in the office, as some of us make our way back in person. And always make sure you're checking local recycling guidelines so you know what can go in the recycling bin. 

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