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US paper recycling rate reaches highest point since 2018

The American Forest & Paper Association says 68 percent of all paper consumed in the U.S. was recycled in 2021.

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), Washington, has announced that 68 percent of paper consumed in the U.S. in 2021 was recycled. The organization says that the rate hasn’t been seen since 2018.

“In 2021, U.S. paper recycling reached a high rate of achievement, further evidence that our industry’s investment and public participation in recycling programs are proven and effective,” says AF&PA President and CEO Heidi Brock.

AF&PA also notes that the 2021 rate of recycling for old corrugated containers (OCC) has increased to 91.4 percent compared with 88.8 percent in 2020.

According to Terry Webber, AF&PA vice president of industry affairs, the carboard box recycling rate has met or exceeded 82 percent since 2009.

Webber attributes the high rate to the capability of recycled paper to be used in manufacturing new products.

Paper recycling rates have more than doubled since AF&PA started recording rates in the early 1990s, when the rate sat at about 33 percent.

Webber commented on the commitment necessary to continue to achieve the high rates seen in 2021.

“It’s consumer behavior and participation that takes decades to build. It’s not something you can just pour a bunch of money in and have it happen overnight,” he says.

The paper industry manufactures nearly $300 billion in products annually and employs approximately 950,000 people, according to Brock, and the AF&PA has set goals for the future through the industry’s sustainability initiative, “Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future.”

“Our 2030 goals include a focus on greenhouse gas reductions, advancing a circular chain value, workplace safety, water stewardship and resilient U.S. forests,” Brock says.