Recycled paper
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Paper recycling rate at about 66 percent in 2020

According to a study from AF&PA, the OCC recycling rate was at nearly 90 percent in 2020.

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), Washington, has announced that 65.7 percent of paper consumed in the U.S. was recycled in 2020. The paper recycling rate was only slightly higher in 2019 at 66.2 percent overall.

AF&PA attributes the decline to a sharp drop (about 12.6 percent) in recovered paper exports in 2020, mainly because of China's ban on recovered paper imports. The association says recycled paper use at U.S. pulp and paper mills rose 0.9 percent, or 286,000 tons, in 2020 compared with 2019.

According to a news release from AF&PA, the paper recycling rate has met or exceeded 63 percent since 2009. The association says this is nearly double the rate the U.S. paper industry achieved in 1990.

AF&PA reports that U.S. mill consumption of old corrugated containers (OCC) reached a record high in 2020 at 22.8 million tons. The recycling rate for OCC was 88.8 percent, and the three-year average was 92.4 percent. AF&PA reports that the recycling rate for OCC was at 92.0 percent in 2019.

“In an unprecedented and dynamic year defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, almost two-thirds of paper was recycled and transformed into new sustainable paper products,” says AF&PA President and CEO Heidi Brock. “The resilience and commitment of our industry is notable, as is engagement of consumers in the paper recycling process. The result is a consistent and high rate for paper recycling. Paper recycling continues to be a success, and the U.S. paper industry plays an essential role."

She continues, “Our industry leadership remains strong with $4.1 billion in manufacturing infrastructure investments, announced, planned or made, from 2019 to 2023, to continue the best use of recycled fiber in our products.”