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Does Paper Actually Get Recycled? The Industry Answers

Question: You put your recycling in the bin and drop it at the curb. Then what happens? Does it actually get recycled?

Answer: Yes! At paper mills across the country, recycled paper is used to make the essential products millions of people rely on.

How Paper Recycling Works

Here's how the process works:

After your local recycling hauler picks up your recycling, it’s taken to a materials recovery facility (MRF) where it’s sorted into like things.
Workers remove items that shouldn’t be there, also called contaminants. That includes things like plastic bags, holiday lights, diapers and even bowling balls. 

Paper is often separated first and sorted into groups for cardboard, mixed paper, office paper, among others. Then, the paper is baled and shipped to a paper mill where it’s turned into new paper products. 

Paper Recycling is a Success Story

In 2022, the paper recycling rate was nearly 68%, which held approximately steady to the 2021 rate. Nearly half of recycled paper went into manufacturing containerboard – the material used to make cardboard boxes.

Recycled paper is also used to make boxes for dry foods like cereal or pasta, tissue products like toilet paper and paper towels, as well as newspapers. 

About 80% of U.S. paper mills use some recycled paper to make new and innovative products! Recycled paper is also exported. It's used in paper mills around the world to manufacture new products.

As one of the most recycled materials in the U.S., paper is a practical and sustainable choice.

What Can You Do?

Doing your part -- recycling dry and clean paper products – ensures this process keeps going.

So, what can you do to make sure you’re recycling properly? Check your local community’s website to understand what’s accepted in your area. This helps ensure you avoid wishcycling.

What is wishcycling? It’s when you put something in your recycling bin hoping it can be recycled. But it causes problems in the recycling stream if the thing you put in the bin isn’t recyclable. 

When you recycle correctly, you’re helping us advance a more sustainable future.

And when it comes to paper items: keep them dry and clean, then put them 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