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Paper Recycling - Get Into the Real Story

Socially responsible paper recycling is a supply chain effort from trees to virgin paper to recycled paper to buying recycled content products and responsibly retiring worn out paper fiber.

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Nearly 80 percent of America's paper mills use recovered fiber to make some or all of their products. Approximately 140 mills use recovered paper exclusively.

Every ton of paper recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space

More than 36% of the fiber used to make new paper products in the United States comes from recycled sources

In 2007, an all-time high 56 percent of the paper consumed in the U.S. was recovered for recycling. The 54.3 million tons of paper recovered equal approximately 360 pounds for every man woman and child in America.

The paper industry has set a new goal of 60 percent recovery by 2012. Your help is needed to get there!

Newspapers are recycled into other products such as cereal boxes, egg cartons, pencil barrels, grocery bags, tissue paper, cellulose insulation materials, and many more diverse products.

Recycling is easy to do, and it's good for business and the environment. So next time you read the paper, open your mail, clean out your files, or empty a box, don't put that paper and paperboard packaging in the trash. Complete the circle and recycle it.

The statistics often tell a different story than the news story. That's the nature of the "photo op" method of communications today. Paper recycling deserves a deeper look.

Here's the Paper Recycling NEWS STORY...

In 2007, an all-time high of 56 percent of the paper consumed in America was recovered for recycling, achieving a significant industry goal five years ahead of schedule. Announcing the achievement today, the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) also set a new goal of 60 percent recovery by 2012.

“Industry is demonstrating a real commitment to environmental sustainability by continuing to set and achieve aggressive paper recovery goals,” said AF&PA President and CEO Donna Harman. “Whether at home, school, or work, paper recovery is something we can all do to make a difference.”

“While the upward trend in recovery rates is most encouraging, getting to 60 percent is an important challenge for all of us. Everyone has a role to play in our effort to sustain and grow the country’s recycling programs and recover more paper,” continued Patrick J. Moore, chairman and CEO, Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation. Smurfit-Stone is a longstanding AF&PA member and is one of the world's largest paper recyclers. The company collected more than 7 million tons of recyclable material in 2007.

The 54.3 million tons of paper recovered in 2007 add up to more than 360 pounds for every man, woman, and child in America. Each percentage point is the equivalent of approximately one million additional tons of recovered paper – enough to fill more than 14,000 railroad cars.

Joining the announcement at the industry's 131st Annual Paper Week conference, Maria Vickers, Deputy Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Solid Waste applauded the paper industry's achievements in increasing paper recycling, noting that “in 2007, the US recycled over 25 million tons more paper than was recycled in 1990. This increase in paper recycling reduced emissions by more than 97 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, comparable to the annual emissions of nearly 18 million cars.” She also noted that EPA and AF&PA continue to work together on projects to stimulate paper recycling across the country.

Matthew McKenna, president and CEO of national nonprofit Keep America Beautiful, a partner of AF&PA on projects to promote paper recycling in schools, praised the Association and its members for their efforts. “True environmental progress, like what we celebrate today, comes when industries work together with communities, organizations, and dedicated individuals to make things happen.”

More information about paper recovery and recycling can be found at

AF&PA is the national trade association of the forest, paper, and wood products industry. AF&PA represents companies and related associations that engage in or represent the manufacture of pulp, paper, paperboard, and wood products. The forest products industry accounts for approximately 6 percent of the total U.S. manufacturing output, employs more than one million people, and ranks among the top 10 manufacturing employers in 42 states with an estimated payroll exceeding $50 billion. Visit AF&PA online at

Here's the DEEPER STORY of Recovered Paper statistics

Get the stats here:

Paper and Paperboard recovery has increased from 44.20% in 1997 to 56.1% in 2007.

The Use of Recovered Paper for Packaging was 0.58 Million tons in 1997 and 0.54 in 2007 ---- a DECREASE!

The Use of Recovered Paper for Printing-Writing paper was 2.4 Million tons in 1997 and 1.7 Million tons in 2007 ---- a DECREASE!

The kinds of paper that have increased recycled content are the low end of the paper quality selection: tissue and containerboard, BUT NOT higher end use quality: newsprint, printing papers, writing papers, packaging, paperboard.

How to Recycle More HIGH QUALITY Paper

Paper mills that manufacture recycled paper face a number of challenges. And some of them can be solved in YOUR office and home.

Challenge 1: Demand for recycled paper

We have to ASK FOR recycled paper, and BUY recycled content paper to encourage retailers to carry it, and distributors to carry it...and manufacturers to make MORE of it.

Challenge 2: Cheap global competition

Saving trees isn't the ONLY benefit of using recycled paper ... and collecting used paper for responsible recycling.

Think about how heavy paper is. Then press that up against the amount of transportation needed to transport used paper to China and recycled paper BACK to the US. Let's discuss the ramifications of that global market:

  • The Number One, Largest volume of EXPORT from the Port of Los Angeles (which is one of the largest ports in the world) is "USED PAPER"! And it goes to China for conversion into cheap packaging and shipping boxes -- a degradation of the recycled material.

    And shipping is probably the DIRTIEST form of transportation today. Ships use the dirtiest, cheapest form of diesel fuel and their emissions are causing ocean pollution as well as land pollution in port cities.

  • Shipping paper thousands of miles is not economical -- this form of transportation is being subsidized by cheap labor, unfair environmental controls in unregulated countries, and non-responsible transportation emissions that will be paid for by environmental systems, taxpayers, species of all kinds, and by the next generation of people around the globe.

Challenge 3: Maintain the Quality of Recycled Fiber

There are grades of paper that are complex -- but to simplify it, there is white (high grade) paper, colored paper, and paperboard or containerboard -- that is used for packaging.

Using white paper for recycling into white paper is HIGH VALUE recycling. Using white paper for packaging is LOW VALUE recycling.

Degradation of the paper pulp reduces the number of times the paper fiber can be recycled. Brown cardboard has a shorter lifespan than quality paper used in writing and printing paper. When brown board is used, it ends up in the landfill or similar waste streams.

You can help keep high value writing and printing paper in the best recycling stream by HOW your recycle.

Challenge 4: Create a SYSTEM for Responsible Recycling

Separate Paper Responsibly

Separating White and Colored Paper is very valuable. Offices that use both kinds of paper can provide separate recycling boxes for the copy room and for desk side personal recycling.

Keep the high quality paper OUT OF the Universal Waste Stream. City recycling bins collect paper, glass, plastic, etc. in one bin. You can guess what happens! Glass breaks and slivers get embedded in paper! That paper then goes to a paper manufacturing facility and the glass destroys their delicate rollers that create that beautiful sheet you love!

Challenge 5: Vett your Paper Recycler

Ask your local paper or recycling vendor about how they handle their paper. Just as asking for recycled content can improve the system, so can holding the recycling company responsible for truly effective recycling practices.
  • Domestic Recycling vs. Export Recycling
  • Separate White and Colored
  • Separate Envelopes and Glue or Finishes
  • Brochures and Catalogs


Paper is a wondrous material, and it is also responsible for a huge use of virgin wood that can negatively impact forestry -- including the endangered rainforests in South America, Africa and Asia -- and even the Northern forests of Canada, etc.

Paper is so ubiquitous and so small -- just one sheet at a time! that we don't think about its global impact. But once you and your office mates put an effective system into place you'll be amazed at how much paper you use -- and can save.

Your little, local system can run for months -- automatically! -- before you need to tweak the system. Recycling paper is another way to not only protect trees and landfills -- but habitat for wildlife, water quality, air quality and responsible land use that contributes to local communities and social responsibility. Everything is connected!

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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