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Magazines & Catalogs

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

In 1998, approximately 66 billion magazines were distributed in the United States. Of these, approximately 66 percent went to subscribers, 17 percent were sold as single-issue sales and 15 percent were returned as unsold. Almost half of the single-issue sales occur in grocery stores.

Catalogs also are printed primarily on coated, groundwood paper. Most catalogs are distributed through the mail. Fourteen billion catalogs were mailed in 1998. More recent data is not available. U.S. EPA data for magazines does not include catalogs.

Magazine Waste Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Facts:


  • 2.26 million tons of magazines or 1% by weight.*
  • 16.7 pounds of magazines per person per year.*


  • 470,000 tons for a 21% recycling rate.*

Recycled Content:

  • Recycled content in coated paper is a recent phenomenon. A 1993 survey showed that 21% of the responding magazine companies use some recycled-content paper.
  • Using recycled fiber is difficult in coated paper because this type of paper is manufactured in a very exacting process in which a thin coating is placed on the fiber base.
  • Contaminants not removed by the deinking process can reduce the smoothness of the coated sheet and cause printing problems.


  • Magazines and catalogs can be composted if shredded properly. But, the clay coating will resist composting.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 1.8 million tons or 1.1% of discarded MSW by weight.*
  • The clay content in magazines and catalogs gives the same Btus per pound as MSW (4,500 Btus to 5,000 Btus for a pound of MSW). This is less than the Btu value of most paper products.
  • Burning coated paper creates more ash than burning other types of paper.

Landfill Volume:

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


  • Landfilled magazines and catalogs have a density of 800 pounds per cubic yard.

Source Reduction:

  • Lighter weight and smaller-sized paper can be used, especially in response to price increases in the cost of coated paper.
  • Online magazines do not require paper.
  • Trends in consumer purchasing habits are leading to increased production and distribution of catalogs. However, online shopping does not require printed catalogs.

Recycling Markets:

Traditionally, magazine and catalog recycling has been limited to clean and easy collection sources, such as printers' waste and unsold copies. Magazine clay hindered recycling efforts.

Now, newer newspaper deinking mills using flotation technologies to remove ink from newspaper fiber are the primary markets for magazines and catalogs. Clay particles help adsorb ink, and then they rise to the surface with air bubbles in the flotation cell. The desired deinking mixture in flotation systems is 30% magazines to 70% newspaper. However, collection problems lead to a lower percentage of magazines in the mix.

Other markets include traditional mixed wastepaper markets such as containerboard and tissue paper.

End-Market Specifications:

Magazines and catalogs fall under two paperstock categories in the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington D.C., Paperstock Guide. No.10, “Magazines,” covers “baled coated magazines, catalogs and similar printed material. They may contain a small percentage of uncoated news-type papers.” Prohibited materials are limited to 1% and outthrows to 3%.

Contaminants include materials used to produce or distribute the magazine such as ultraviolet cured inks, pressure-sensitive adhesives, water-soluble glue bindings, plastic bags and metallic or plastic inserts.

Recycling Cost and value:

Traditionally, curbside recycling programs did not collect magazines and catalogs because they contaminated newspaper-only programs and because people tend to keep magazines longer than newspapers.

In addition, unshredded magazines were slippery and hard to compress. Baled stacks tended to slide and fall apart. As a result, more care and time must be taken bale whole magazines.

Today, however, with the increased popularity of mixed paper recycling programs, magazines and catalogs are commonly collected with other grades of paper. Although, adding mixed paper to a collection program requires additional collection and processing capacity and increases costs.

Old magazines and catalogs generally follow the same prices trends as curbside-collected newspapers and are usually lower than or at the same value as No. 6 news.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C.


“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 1998,” U.S. EPA, Washington, D.C. Website: www.epa.gov/msw
Direct Mail Association, New York. Website: www.the-dma.org
Magazine Publishers of America, New York. Website: www.magazine.org

“Scrap Specifications Circular 1998,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, D.C. Website: www.isri.org

“The Emerging World of Deinking,” Waste Age, June 1992. Website: www.wasteage.com
*1998 U.S. EPA estimates.