U.S. Paper Recovery Rate Reaches 65.8 Percent

May 03, 2018

Hawkinson_Brian-WebBy Brian Hawkinson
Executive Director, Recovered Fiber

After increasing for three consecutive years, the U.S. paper recovery rate dipped from 67.2 percent in 2016 to 65.8 percent in 2017. The paper recovery rate has met or exceeded 63 percent for the past nine years.

AF&PA is working toward a goal to exceed 70 percent recovery by 2020. The rate of paper recovered for recycling has nearly doubled since our industry committed to setting and achieving paper recovery goals in 1990.

The paper recovery rate is a reflection of the broader recovered fiber market, which is a complex system in which supply, demand, and global economics all play a role in how much fiber is ultimately recovered.

Several factors influenced recovered paper markets and the U.S. paper recovery rate: 

  • Consumption of recovered fiber at U.S. pulp, paper and paperboard mills increased 1.1 percent in 2017.
  • U.S. exports of recovered paper to mills around the world decreased by 7.4 percent.
  • Retail sales are increasingly moving from brick and mortar stores to online shopping, leading to the “E-commerce Effect.” While many online purchases arrive in homes in corrugated boxes, the recovery rate for those boxes varies by locality.

Because recovered paper is a true market-based commodity, we expect natural ebbs and flows in the market to impact recovery rates.

One constant that shapes the global use of recovered fiber in manufacturing, however, is its quality. High-quality recovered paper is critical for making new paper and paperboard in mills in the U.S. and around the world.

Consumers can help improve the quantity and quality of paper and paper-based packaging they recycle by ensuring they put it in the recycling cart or bin, and by making sure that it is clean and dry before it goes in.