Bringing in the Fiber

Break out the recycled confetti. Despite a decrease in consumption, paper and paperboard recovery increased in 2005 to a record recovery rate of 51.5 percent, a 2.1 percentage-point increase over 2004.

“We are recovering more paper than ever before even though the amount of paper used in the U.S. has declined,” says Stan Lancey, economist for the Washington-based American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), which compiled the annual statistics. “The incremental recovery is a major achievement under these circumstances.”

Lancey attributes part of the decline in consumption to “electronic displacement,” particularly with newsprint (ONP). According to AF&PA, the ONP supply fell 4 percent in 2005 to less than 14 million tons. While fewer Americans appear to be reading the morning paper, more are recycling it, with ONP recovery remaining strong at nearly 70 percent.

On the recovery side, the largest increases came in old corrugated cardboard (OCC) and mixed paper. “The latter may reflect the fact that more communities are including mixed paper in their recycling programs,” Lancey says.

In fact, the number of communities collecting direct mail and phone books — both of which fall into the mixed paper category — rose 7 percent from 2000 to 2005, according to the “2005 AF&PA Community Survey,” which analyzes local paper and paperboard recycling programs. Chaz Miller, state programs director for the Washington-based Environmental Industries Associations, adds that the paper industry has the ability to do more with mixed paper than ever before.

In general, 86 percent of the population currently has access to some form of paper or paperboard recycling program, and 69 percent of communities have such programs in place, according to the survey. It also notes that, increasingly, paper is being collected through single-stream recycling systems. “Regardless of the collection method in place, AF&PA continues to encourage the increase in recovery of high-quality fiber,” Lancey says.

Over the next year, Miller expects supply and recovery to remain consistent. “The bigger issue is what the trend is going to be over the next 10 years or so,” he adds. “I think over the next 10 years, you are going to see a slow and steady increase in the amount recycled.” Miller sees continued strong export markets and the paper industry's improving ability to use recycled fiber as catalysts.

The 2005 increase puts AF&PA closer to its goal of a 55 percent recovery rate by 2012. For its part, the association is establishing partnership and outreach programs to encourage recycling, including the recently launched youth education program with Scholastic Inc. “If they can't get there in 10 years, they'll never make it,” Miller concludes.

2005 Paper/Paperboard Recycling Program Summary
Results by Population with Access Results by Community
Population (Millions) Percent of U.S. Total Number of Communities Percent of U.S. Total
Curbside Recycling Programs 148 56% 9,119 27%
Drop-off Recycling Programs 165 64% 20,240 59%
Total Recycling Programs 254 86% 23,519 69%