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How Paper Recycling 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, etc. 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

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A pie chart showing where recycled paper goes with containerboard being 41.1%.

In 2021, the paper recycling rate was 68% - a rate on par with the highest rate previously achieved. 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. 

As the most recycled material 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.

A key to this process is making sure you’re recycling properly. Check your local municipality’s website to understand what’s accepted in your area.

And when it comes to paper items: keep them dry and clean, then put them in the recycling bin!