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Profiles in Garbage: Newspapers

The full-throttle shift to electronic media has slashed newspaper generation.

Newspapers are printed on newsprint, an uncoated groundwood paper made by grinding wood pulp without removing lignin and other wood pulp components. Groundwood fibers can be recycled up to seven times.

EPA revised its newspaper data in 2010 to include “groundwood inserts” and “mechanical papers” with newspapers. Groundwood inserts are the preprinted advertising inserts placed inside newspapers. Mechanical papers are directories and other printed materials made from groundwood. Groundwood fiber paper is the largest component by weight and volume of a curbside recycling program.

In 2009 approximately 46.2 million newspapers were sold every weekday by the 1,397 daily U.S. newspapers. On Sunday, 919 newspapers sold 46.8 million papers. Newspaper readership has declined since 1990, with the page count plunging in the last decade. Newspapers had $26 billion in advertising in 2010 ($23 billion in print, $3 billion in websites), for a 47 percent revenue decline from 2000.

In 2010, newspaper/mechanical paper generation was 2.8 million tons higher than in 1960, but its solid waste market was cut in half. Newspaper/mechanical paper recycling increased by 5.25 million tons and the recycling rate increased by 180 percent during this same period. However, the impact of electronic media has had a dramatically negative impact on the tonnage of newspapers generated and recycled in the last decade.

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


Newspapers Facts*


  • 9.88 million tons, or 4.0% by weight.
  •  63.94 pounds per person per year.


  • 7.07 million tons, an 72.0% recovery rate.
  • 7.37 million tons, a 72.0% recovery rate in 2010 (industry data).

Recycled Content:

  • 30% for American newspapers.
  • 27 states have voluntary or mandatory recycled fiber requirements for newspapers.


  • Highly compostable with only trace amounts of ink in the compost.

Burned or Landfilled:

  • 2.81 million tons, or 1.7% of discarded MSW by weight.
  • Per pound Btu value of 7,500 is 50% higher than a pound of garbage.

Landfill Volume:

  • 15.3 million cubic yards, or 3.6% of lanfilled MSW by volume in 1997.


  • 12” stack weighs 35 pounds.
  • Loose, unbaled newspapers weigh 360 - 500 pounds per cubic yard.
  • Baled newspapers weigh 720 - 1,000 pounds per cubic yard.
  • Landfilled newspapers weigh 800 pounds per cubic yard.

Source Reduction:

  • Newspapers use a lighter paper weight and smaller paper size. “Web width” has decreased from 48 inches to as low as 42 inches.
  • On-line newspapers are an electronic alternative that has displaced newspaper use.


  • Exports are almost half of the market for recycled newspapers and mechanical papers.
  • Making groundwood paper into newsprint or other paper products is next.
  • Other markets include molded pulps, cellulose insulation and animal bedding.

End Market Specifications:

  • ISRI guidelines for curbside collected newspaper include grades: 6 (news), 7 (news, deink quality), and 8 (news, special de-ink quality) which allow for decreasingly lower levels of contamination.
  • Generally, ONP should be kept dry and clean.


American Forest and Paper Association, www.afandpa.org

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2010,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2011, www.epa.gov/msw/msw99.htm

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coaltion, 1990, www.nrc-recycle.org

Newspaper Association of America, www.naa.org

“Scrap Specifications Circular 2010: Guidelines for Paper Stock,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, www.isri.org

* Data is from 2010 EPA estimates, except where noted.

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