Paper Recycling Facts, Figures and Information Sources

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With about 71 million tons of paper and paperboard products produced annually in the U.S., along with over 2 billion books, 350 million magazines and 24 billion newspapers, it goes without saying that there enormous benefits of paper recycling. The good news is that paper recycling has long been a success story in terms of recovery, and one that continues to improve over time. Here are some basic facts and figures pertaining to paper recycling:

  • The world’s first piece of paper was made by Ts`ai Lun in 105 AD.
  • In the 20 years following 1990, the recovery rate for paper almost doubled in the U.S. In 2011, 66.8 percent of the U.S. paper consumed was recovered.
  • In 2010, 87 percent of the population had access to curbside and/or drop-off paper recycling.
  • In the U.S., more paper products are recycled than are sent to landfills The U.S. paper industry set a goal of a 60 percent recovery rate for scrap paper by 2012. It achieved this goal three years early, measuring a 66.8 recovery rate in 2011. According to the American Forest & Paper Association, the average amount of paper recovered per person living in the U.S. was 334 pounds per year.
  • Over one-third of new paper is produced with recycled fiber. Other fiber sources include whole trees and plants (one-third), as well as residue from sawmills (one-third). By weight, paper comprises more than a third of all recyclables collected in the US, nearly 45 million tons in 2010.
  • Recovered fiber is used by 87 percent of more than 520 paper and paperboard. mills in the U.S., providing over one-third of the fiber used at mills.
  • Paper cannot be recycled indefinitely. With every recycling, fibers become shorter. After being processed five to seven times, the fibers become too short for the production of new paper, requiring the addition of new fibers.
  • Two-thirds of packaging material recovered for recycling is paper, more than the combined total of glass, metal, and plastic. According to municipal solid waste data from the EPA, only 27.1 percent of glass, 19.9 percent of aluminum and 8.2 percent of plastics consumed were recovered for recycling in 2010.
  • On a daily basis, U.S. papermakers recycle enough paper to fill a 14-mile long train of boxcars.
  • Paper recycling supports carbon sequestration.
  • The benefits of recycling one ton of paper include:
    • Saving enough energy to power the average American home for six months.
    • Avoiding use of 7,000 gallons of water.
    • Avoiding the use of 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.
    • Avoiding greenhouse gas emissions by one metric ton of carbon equivalent (MTCE).

Sources for the facts and figures mentioned in this article were found at the following locations. Be sure to follow these links to find out more about paper recycling:

Be sure to read my article about the logistics of paper recycling, as well as my paper recycling glossary of terms.