PROFILES IN GARBAGE: Office Paper 7836

Chaz Miller, Semi-retired, 40-year veteran of the waste and recycling industry

March 1, 2003

3 Min Read

Office paper is a generic name given to many paper products used in offices and businesses, including writing, computer and copying paper. These grades usually 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 usually is white, but it can be produced in a variety of colors. Most office paper is made from chemically pulped paper fiber.

Office paper is a subcategory of the “printing and writing” paper industry category, which also includes book and magazine paper, junk mail and brochures. Since 1960, office paper generation has increased by 6.1 million tons or 395 percent, and its MSW market share has almost doubled. Office paper recycling has increased by 3.83 million tons, and its recycling rate has more than tripled.

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 Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C. E-mail the author at: [email protected]

Office Paper Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Facts:


  • 7.53 million tons or 3.3% by weight.*

  • 53.51 pounds per person.*

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

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

  • Recycled:

  • 4.07 million tons or 54.1%.*

  • 13.4 million tons of printing and writing paper or 41.1% (industry data).

  • Recycled Content:

  • 0% to 100% depending on a paper mill's ability to use recycled office paper.

  • Composted:

  • Compostable if shredded properly.

  • Low nitrogen content and lack of physical structure are inhibiting factors.

  • Incinerated or Landfilled

  • 3.46 million tons or 2.1% of discarded MSW by weight.*

  • 7,200 Btus per pound versus 4,500 Btus to 5,000 Btus for one pound of MSW.

  • Landfill Volume:

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

  • Density:

  • Landfilled office paper weighs 800 pounds per cubic yard.*

  • Unbaled office paper weighs 375 pounds per cubic yard to 465 pounds per cubic yard.

  • Baled office paper weighs 700 to 750 pounds per cubic yard.

  • Source Reduction:

  • Double-sided copying, e-mail, extensive use of online systems.

  • Recycling Markets:

  • Export markets are the biggest, followed by tissue, recycled paperboard, and printing and writing.

  • End-Market Specifications:

  • ISRI guidelines for paperstock include grades 42, computer printout; 40, sorted white ledger; 38, sorted colored ledger; 37, sorted office paper; 2, mixed paper; and 1 soft mixed paper.

  • Each mill has its own specific waste-paper requirements.

  • High-value end-markets are the most restrictive.

  • Consult carefully with purchasers before delivering office paper to a market.

  • Sources:

    American Forest and Paper Association, Washington, D.C.

    “Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 1998 Update,” EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 1999.

    “Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2000 Facts and Figures,” EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2002.

    “Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition, Washington, D.C.

    Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Providence, R.I.

    “Scrap Specifications Circular 2002,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, D.C.

    *2000 EPA estimates.

About the Author(s)

Chaz Miller

Semi-retired, 40-year veteran of the waste and recycling industry, National Waste & Recycling Association

Chaz Miller is a longtime veteran of the waste and recycling industry.

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