Paper Recovery Rate Reaches an All-Time High

The paper recovery rate in the United States climbed to 48 percent in 2000, its highest ever, according to the “Paper Recovery Progress Report” published by the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), Washington, D.C.

Key indicators of paper recovery — office paper, newspapers and old corrugated boxes — all increased appreciably last year, according to the report. Office paper recovery climbed from 37.5 percent in 1999 to 41.1 percent in 2000; newspaper recovery climbed from 68 percent to 71 percent; and old corrugated box recovery climbed from 70.1 percent to 75 percent.

A total of 49.4 million tons of paper were recovered for recycling in 2000, up from 46.8 million tons in 1999. Additionally, consumption at U.S. paper mills increased from 36.7 million tons in 1999 to 37.6 million tons in 2000, despite a 2.8 percent drop in paper and paperboard production. Recovered paper use as a percent of paper and paperboard production increased from 37.1 percent in 1999 to 39.1 percent in 2000.

Also, recovered paper used to make non-paper products such as cellulose insulation, paper mulch and compost grew to an estimated 2.2 million tons in 2000, up from 2 million tons in 1999, and more than double that of a decade ago, according to the report.

The AF&PA defines “recovery” as paper that is recycled at domestic mills, is exported or is used to make new non-paper products. Unused recovered paper is not calculated. The annual recovery rate then is derived by dividing the amount of paper recovered by the amount of paper U.S. residents use per year.

The rise can be attributed to higher demand overseas for U.S. recovered paper and significant gains in domestic recovered paper consumption, according to the report. Recovered paper exports increased more than 20 percent in 2000, mostly shipping to China, Canada and Mexico.

“There is always a need for fiber products,” says Barry Polsky of the AF&PA. “There also is a great demand for recycled products [such as] paper, glass, plastic and steel. This is our effort to satisfy that demand and to satisfy our own demand for fiber and paper products.”

The AF&PA, which is close to reaching its 50 percent recovery goal, still says that more recovery is needed. The weakest location for paper recovery is in offices, according to Polsky. “There's tons of paper there, and certainly not all of it gets recovered,” he says. The AF&PA consequently is concentrating its efforts more on office-wide recycling.

Polsky adds that many municipalities also are initiating curbside programs. In fact, according to a study conducted by Denver-based R.W. Beck for the AF&PA, 86 percent of U.S. residents have access to curbside and drop-off paper recycling programs. Fifty-seven percent of communities also have access to drop-off paper recycling programs.

Bill Moore, president of Moore and Associates, an Atlanta-based paper recycling consulting firm, concurs with Polsky on the AF&PA's success rate. “It's a pretty significant increase,” he says. “[The AF&PA] really stuck its neck out setting that goal, and it has made fairly steady progress every year since.”

Adds Polsky, “There is no national recycling law, so for us to get 48 percent [recovery] is quite an achievement.”

Paper Recovery Rates
Key Indicator 1999 2000
Office paper 37.5% 41.1%
Newspapers 68% 71%
Old corrugated boxes 70.1% 75%
Source: Paper Recovery Progress Report American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), Washington, D.C.