U.S. paper and cardboard recycling rates remain steady in 2022
The American Forest & Paper Association (AFPA) has released U.S. paper and cardboard recycling rates for 2022.
Throughout 2022, paper and cardboard continued to be some of the most recycled materials in the United States. The paper recycling rate was nearly 68 percent holding approximately stable to the 2021 rate. Cardboard boxes, also known as old corrugated containers (OCC), are the most recycled packaging material in the U.S. In 2022, the recycling rate for cardboard boxes was more than 93 percent.
More than two-thirds of the paper used in the U.S., nearly 50 million tons, is recycled and used to make new paper products.
How is the U.S. paper recycling rate calculated?
The paper recycling rate is calculated using AFPA data on the amount of recovered paper used to make new paper and paperboard by U.S. paper mills and U.S. Census Bureau data on net exports of recovered paper used to make new paper and paperboard in paper mills around the world. Then the AFPA compares that total to the new supply of paper and paperboard in the U.S. over the same time period.
The rate informs how much paper is diverted from landfills. It is an important indicator of how much recovered paper is used to make new products.
The effective recycling rate of paper and OCC in the U.S.
AF&PA calculates a statistically sound effective rate alongside the traditional recycling rate to provide a clear picture of the amount of paper and paperboard available for recovery in the U.S.
The 2022 effective recycling rate for total paper declined slightly to 73 to 78 percent, while the effective rate for OCC held approximately stable at 80 to 85 percent.
Both the traditional and effective rates illustrate that paper recycling remains consistently high.
The success of paper recycling in the U.S.
The paper and wood products industry is inherently circular. Products are made from renewable resources – trees – and recycled paper. The industry voluntarily set a goal to help improve paper recycling back in the 1990s. The recycling rate has doubled since that time. A paper recycling program is available to 94 percent of U.S. citizens
The U.S. paper and cardboard industry has completed or plans to complete $7 billion in manufacturing investments (2019 to 2025) that will use more than 9 million tons of recovered fibre.
As a result, nearly 50 million tons of paper was recycled in the U.S. in 2022.