66% of paper and paper-based packaging in the U.S. is recycled, with 70% recycled in Canada. [1]

The paper revolution

Paper recycling extends the life of renewable wood fiber, keeps waste out of landfills and avoids greenhouse gas emissions that result when paper products are landfilled. The U.S. paper industry continues to drive toward a recycling rate that exceeds 70%. [2]

From a practical perspective, the theoretical maximum recycling rate is somewhere around 78% because some paper products cannot be recycled. These include materials that are kept for long periods of time (books), archived (records), or destroyed or contaminated when used (e.g., tissue and hygiene products). [3]

Paper can be recycled as many as 5 to 7 times after its initial use. After that, fibers get shorter and too weak to bond into new paper, so virgin fiber from trees must be added to continue the cycle. In the U.S. and Canada, this fiber comes from renewable, sustainably managed forests. [4]

Approximately 80% of all U.S. paper mills use some recovered fiber to make everything from paper-based packaging to tissue products to office paper and newspaper.

American Forest and Paper Association, 2019

More than twice as much U.S. paper is recycled than is sent to landfills.

American Forest and Paper Association, 2019

Of the total amount of waste diverted from landfills through recycling or composting (9.3 million tons) in 2016 in Canada, 39% was paper, and less than 5% was plastic.

Government of Canada, 2018

Paper for recycling is an essential raw material

After paper is recovered for recycling, it is sorted and graded to determine suitable end uses. The recovered paper is then mixed with water so that the fibers can be recovered. During this process, contaminants are removed, the fibers are cleaned and, if necessary, ink is removed. The resulting pulp may then be used to produce 100% recycled paper or mixed with virgin fiber, depending on the quality characteristics required of the end product.

Recycled and virgin fiber are complementary

Both recycled and virgin fiber are essential to paper making. When compared to the manufacture of pulp with virgin fiber, production of recycled pulp generally requires less energy and has lower emissions to air. However, virgin pulp production uses mostly renewable energy and creates less solid waste. Because the use of virgin and recycled fibers are interdependent, it is very difficult to reliably compare their environmental attributes. In practice, recycled fiber would not exist if virgin fiber was not sustainably harvested, and societal demands for paper and paper-based packaging products could not be met without both. [5]

  1. American Forest and Paper Association, 2019; Forest Products Association of Canada, 2019
  2. American Forest and Paper Association, 2019
  3. Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), 2016-2020
  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Archive
  5. World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2015
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