Office Paper

The digital revolution is reducing the amount of paper used in offices.

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. It is a sub-category of the paper industry's “printing and writing” category, which also includes book and magazine paper, junk mail, brochures and similar products.

Since 1960, office paper generation increased by 4.8 million tons, or 320 percent, and its MSW market share increased by 50 percent. However, office paper generation has declined by 750,000 tons during the last six years as the use of personal computers has spread. Office paper recycling increased by 3.9 million tons and the recycling rate quadrupled since 1960.

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:


American Forest and Paper Association,

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

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition,

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006” and “National Source Reduction Characterization Report,” Office of Solid Waste,

Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management

“Scrap Specifications Circular 2007,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries,

*Data is from 2006 EPA estimates.

Office Paper Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Facts:


  • 6.3 million tons, or 2.5% by weight.*

  • 42.88 pounds per person, per year.*

  • 9.2 million tons in 2003, according to industry data.

  • 32.7 million tons of printing and writing paper in 2004. (industry data)

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


  • 4.15 million tons, or 65.7% recycling rate.*

  • 13.8 million tons of printing and writing paper, or 42.1% recycling rate in 2004. (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:

  • 2.17 million tons, or 1.39% of discarded MSW by weight.*

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

Landfill Volume:

  • 8.67 million cubic yards or 2.1% of landfilled MSW in 1997.


  • Landfilled weighs 800 pounds per cubic yard (lbs./cu.yd.).

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

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

Source Reduction:

  • Double-sided copying, e-mail, and extenstive use of online systems will continue to reduce the amount of office paper being used.

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.