Profiles in Garbage: Magazines and Catalogs

Clay-coated paperstock once hampered recycling, but is less of an issue in recent years.

Most magazines are printed on coated, groundwood paper, which is the same kind of paper used by newspapers. Clay, the most common coating, smoothes the surface of the paper and creates a surface that glossy inks can adhere to. A two-sided, coated paper sheet used for magazines will normally have 30 to 35 percent clay and filler, and 65 to 70 percent paper fiber content.

About 7,200 different magazines were published in 2010. Magazine circulation in 2010 was slightly more than 325 million copies. The total number of magazines printed was higher. Approximately three quarters of all magazines go to subscribers, one tenth are sold as single-issue sales and the rest are returned unsold. About half of the single-issue sales occur in supermarkets.

Catalogs also are primarily printed on coated groundwood paper. Most catalogs are distributed through the mail. Around 13.5 billion catalogs were mailed in 2009. This reflects a decline from 2007. EPA solid waste data for magazines does not include catalogs, although catalogs are normally collected with magazines in curbside recycling programs. All data in this profile is limited to magazines unless otherwise noted.

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

Magazines MSW Facts*


  • 1.45 million tons, or 0.6% of municipal solid waste (MSW) by weight.
  • 9.44 pounds per person per year.


  • 780,000 tons or a 53.8% recycling rate.
  • Almost all unsold copies are recycled.

Recycled Content:

  • Magazine publishers were slow to use recycled fiber because coating paper is a very exacting process. Contaminants can reduce smoothness and cause printing problems. However, recycled content is now less of an issue.


  • Hard to compost because clay coating resists composting.
  • Composted magazines must be shredded properly.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 670,000 tons or 0.4% of discarded MSW by weight.
  • Clay content gives magazines a per-pound Btu value of 4,500 to 5,000, lower than that of most paper products.
  • Burning coated paper creates more ash than burning other forms of paper.

Landfill Volume:

  • 4.75 million cubic yards or 1% of 1997 landfilled MSW.


  • Landfilled density of 800 pounds per cubic yard.

Source Reduction:

  • Like newspapers, most magazines now publish a paperless on-line edition.
  • Lighter and smaller paperstock can offset cost of coated paper.
  • Direct Marketing Association and Catalog Choice maintain opt-in ”do not send” list for consumers wishing to avoid catalogs.

Recycling Markets:

  • Clay was a major barrier to past recycling efforts.
  • Deinking mills using flotation technologies are the primary market.
  • Other markets include mixed wastepaper users such as containerboard and tissue paper.

End Market Specifications:

  • ISRI Paperstock Guide, No. 10 “Magazines”.
  • May contain a small percentage of uncoated paper.
  • Prohibited materials limited to 1%, outthrows to 3%.
  • Contaminants are ultraviolet-cured inks, pressure-sensitive adhesives, water-soluble glue bindings, plastic bags and metallic or plastic inserts.


“Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2009 Facts and Figures,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste,

Catalog Choice,

Direct Mail Association, New York,

Magazine Publishers of America, New York,

Scrap Specifications Circular 2011, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington,

*Data is from 2009 EPA estimates, except where noted.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.