In a time of renewed emphasis on reducing waste, paper recycling rates for products and packaging set the industry apart.
Many states have introduced legislation, called extended producer responsibility bills, that target how consumer products are disposed after use. Several of these proposals aim to make producers responsible for managing the disposal of various goods in an effort to keep them out of landfills. Examples include mattresses, plastic packaging, chemicals, electronics and more.
Paper-based packaging has been included in some proposals, but the good news is paper recycling rates are already high. Even during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, which saw an increase in single-use everything, 65.7 percent of paper consumed in the United States was recycled, according to research by the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA).
Since 2009, AF&PA reports, paper recycling rates have met or exceeded 63 percent — nearly double the rate achieve by the U.S. paper industry in 1990.
Paper recycling rates of old corrugated containers (OCC) — material used in cardboard boxes — reached 88.8 percent, with a three-year average of 92.4 percent.
“In an unprecedented and dynamic year defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, almost two-thirds of paper was recycled and transformed into new sustainable paper products,” said AF&PA President and CEO Heidi Brock in a news release announcing the results. “The resilience and commitment of our industry is notable, as is engagement of consumers in the paper recycling process. The result is a consistent and high rate for paper recycling.”
Paper recycling has limits, but each time it is recycled, it extends the life of fiber from our forests and keeps it out of the waste stream. Packaging design can affect its recyclability, but AF&PA offers a design guide to help producers meet their recyclability goals.
“Paper recycling continues to be a success, and the U.S. paper industry plays an essential role,” Brock said. “Our industry leadership remains strong with $4.1 billion in manufacturing infrastructure investments, announced, planned or made, from 2019-2023, to continue the best use of recycled fiber in our products.”