White Papers

Recyclability of Paper and Paperboard (WP-23-03)

Paper and paperboard is the largest municipal solid waste (MSW) component recycled within the United States, and represents 67% of all MSW components recycled. The industry continues to strive to increase the collection and recycle of generated paper and paperboard, and to increase the utilization rates of recovered fiber for the manufacture of paper and board products. This white paper provides information on fiber longevity, fresh fiber requirements for a functioning fiber cycle, age distribution of products, average number of times fiber can be recycled, utilization rates, and market changes and challenges affecting recyclability for the US paper and paperboard sector.

The average and maximum fiber longevity in the US have increased as the market has shifted from grades with lower utilization rates of recovered paper, such as printing and writing, to grades with higher utilization rates, such as containerboard. The average age distribution of fiber products has also increased as domestic utilization rates have increased. The utilization rate in the US has increased from 36.9% in 2012 to 43.8% in 2021, and may approach 50% as announced containerboard capacity comes online to create more demand for collected recovered paper that is currently exported. Recovery rates in the US have remained steady over the last decade, averaging 66% between 2011 and 2021.