Office Paper

Office paper is a generic name given to a wide variety of paper products used in offices and businesses, including writing, computer and copying paper. These grades have longer fibers and are brighter than newspaper and packaging grades. Office wastepaper also includes newspapers, corrugated boxes and paperboard packaging, which are not included in this profile.

Office paper is usually white, but can be produced in a variety of colors. Most office paper is made from chemically pulped paper fiber.

Office paper is a sub-category of the paper industry's “printing and writing” category, which also includes book and magazine paper, junk mail, brochures, etc. Since 1960, office paper generation has increased by 5.6 million tons or 370 percent, and its MSW market share has almost doubled. However, office paper generation has declined by half a million tons in the last five years. Over that same time period, office paper recycling has increased by 3.74 million tons, and the recycling rate has more than tripled.

This profile concentrates on office paper because it is the most commonly recycled portion of the printing and writing paper category.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington, D.C. E-mail the author at: [email protected].


American Forest and Paper Association,

“Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 1998 Update,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 1999

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Disposal and Recycling in the United States: 2003 Facts and Figures,” EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2005,

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition, Washington, D.C., Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Providence, R.I.

“Scrap Specifications Circular 2005,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, D.C.,

*2003 EPA estimates.

Office Paper Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Facts:


  • 7.15 million tons or 3.0% by weight.*

  • 49.17 pounds (lbs.) per person.*

  • 9.2 million tons in 2003 (industry data).

  • 31 million tons of printing and writing paper in 2003 (industry data).

  • 213.3 pounds of printing and writing paper per person (industry data).


  • 3.99 million tons or 55.8%.*

  • 13.7 million tons of printing and writing paper or 42.1% in 2002 (industry data).

Recycled Content:

  • 0% to 100%, depending on a paper mill's ability to use recycled office paper.


  • Compostable if shredded properly.

  • Low nitrogen content and lack of physical structure are inhibiting factors.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 3.17 million tons or 1.9% of discarded MSW by weight.*

  • 7,200 Btus per lb. (4,500 Btus to 5,000 Btus in 1 lb. of MSW).

Landfill Volume:

  • 8.67 million cubic yards (cu. yds.) or 2.1% of landfilled MSW in 1997.


  • Landfilled weighs 800 lbs./cu. yd.

  • Unbaled weighs 375 lbs./cu. yd. to 465 lbs./cu. yd.

  • Baled weighs 700 lbs./cu. yd. to 750 lbs./cu. yd.


  • Double-sided copying, e-mail, extensive use of online systems.

Recycling Markets:

  • Exports, tissue mills, recycled paperboard, and printing and writing paper are the primary markets.

End-Market Specifications:

  • ISRI guidelines for paperstock include grades 42, computer printout; 40, sorted white ledger; 37, sorted office paper; 2, mixed paper; and 1, soft mixed paper.

  • Each mill has its own requirements.

  • High-value end-markets are the most restrictive.

  • Consult carefully with purchasers before selling.