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Advancing Paper Recycling’s Success Into the Future

By: Heidi Brock

AF&PA plays an active role in our industry’s continuous progress on sustainability. By setting and achieving ambitious goals, the paper and wood products industry has clearly demonstrated a meaningful commitment to advancing paper recycling’s success well into the future.  

Let’s first acknowledge the outstanding action of millions of Americans who recycle and the expanded access to recycling programs. Public engagement, combined with our industry's investment and widespread access for paper recycling, means that nearly twice as much paper today is recycled than three decades ago. 

Since 1994, AF&PA has periodically conducted national surveys to measure the extent and growth of access to community paper and paperboard recycling.  

The findings presented in the 2021 AF&PA Access to Recycling Study show us that community recycling programs for paper and paper-based packaging are well-developed and widely accessible. This is good news when so many individuals are looking to make a difference on behalf of the environment.  

Remarkably, in 2020, during a period defined by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost two-thirds of paper was recycled and transformed into new sustainable paper products. The resilience of our industry is clear, as is the active participation of consumers in making paper recycling the success it is today.  

Importantly, our industry innovation and investment continue. We have planned or announced approximately $5 billion in manufacturing infrastructure investments from 2019-2023 to continue the best use of recycled fiber in our products. That’s nearly $2.5 million per day in investments. 

Ours is an industry that has developed an effective and efficient system for recycling over the past decades. Producer responsibility is something we do on a voluntary and market-driven basis. 

And yet, the commitment to do more has strengthened. Our latest sustainability initiative builds on our industry’s success and continues our commitment to manufacture sustainable products.  

AF&PA has established five quantifiable sustainability goals that the industry aims to meet by 2030. I encourage you to learn more about this bold initiative – Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future

Together, in partnership with households across the country, we can advance a circular value chain through the production of renewable and recyclable products.

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