A Slight Decline

ONE YEAR AFTER RISING to an all-time high, the recycling rate for paper and paperboard declined slightly in 2004, according to a new report by the Washington-based American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA). Last year, 49.5 percent of the paper and paperboard consumed in the United States was recovered for recycling. In 2003, the rate was 50.3 percent, marking the first time it had crossed the halfway mark.

A slackening in the growth of recovered paper exports and a bump in the paper and paperboard supply fueled the slight downtown, according to AF&PA. Chaz Miller, state programs director for the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association, says the decrease is “statistically insignificant.” The state of paper recycling is “strong and healthy,” he says.

According to AF&PA, the recovery rate of office papers reached an all-time high of 49.1 percent in 2004, up from 48.3 percent one year earlier. Meanwhile, 73.4 percent of old newspapers consumed last year were recovered, the exact rate at which they were recovered in 2003.

However, the recovery rate of old corrugated containers (OCC) declined in 2004. Last year, 72.9 percent of OCC were collected for recycling, a decrease of 2.9 percentage points from 2003.

AF&PA has set a goal of a 55 percent recovery rate by 2012. Given the significant growth of the recovery rate during the past dozen years, the goal would appear realistic. In 1993, the recovery rate was 38.7 percent. By 2000, it had climbed to 48.3 percent before peaking last year.

Miller says China's recent decision to float the yuan will affect the export of recovered paper, but notes it is too early to know what the changes will be. “Will it be beneficial or will it create pressure on exports markets?” he questions. “I do not know the answer.”

Meanwhile, battery recycling is increasing. The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp. (RBRC) has announced that it collected 2.3 million pounds of rechargeable batteries in North America during the first six months of 2005. The total represents an increase of 9 percent from the same period in 2004.

RBRC attributes the rise in part to a public service announcement campaign featuring Danny Seo, a writer and television personality who promotes environmentally friendly home design and fashion. The organization also credits the recycling increase to a new program in which businesses can receive a free shipment of collection boxes in which to send their old batteries to RBRC. Under the terms of the program, RBRC pre-pays shipping fees.

Paper and Paperboard Recovery Rate
1994 41.5%
1995 44.0%
1996 45.6%
1997 44.2%
1998 44.6%
1999 44.5%
2000 46.0%
2001 48.3%
2002 48.2%
2003 50.3%
2004 49.5%
Source: American Forest and Paper Association