Paper recycling hit new heights last year, according to the latest data from the American Forest & Paper Association.
Approximately 52 million tons of paper were recovered in 2015, the AF&PA recently reported. The group estimates the overall paper recovery rate reached 66.8 percent, an all-time high. The 2014 recovery rate was 65.4 percent.
The recovery rate, which is released annually by AF&PA, reflects all recovered paper with the exception of paper waste known as mill broke, which is produced before the completion of the paper-making process. The AF&PA does not provide specific data on post-consumer paper recycling.
“Paper recycling is widespread, widely accessible, it’s broadly successful and it’s a great environmental success story,” said Brian Hawkinson, the executive director of recovered fibers at AF&PA. He credited the higher numbers to growth in recycling infrastructure across the country and to paper mill demand for recovered material.
While overall paper generation fell slightly to just under 78 million tons in 2015 and is down about 25 percent since 1999, Hawkinson noted the shift toward more online commerce has helped drive the generation of more cardboard in the recycling stream. Since 1999, generation of old corrugated containers (OCC) has grown almost 50 percent.
Of the 33.7 million tons of OCC put on the marketplace in 2015, 31.3 million tons, or 92.9 percent, were recovered, AF&PA figures show.
One concern AF&PA has for the future of paper recovery is mixed-waste processing. Many in the recycling industry have opposed the approach on the grounds that it contaminates and devalues recyclables, including fiber.
“That’s something that’s certainly got the industry’s attention,” Hawkson said. “Our goal is to promote increased recovery of mill-quality fiber so anything that is a threat to recovery is something we’re concerned about.”
He noted the industry is within reach of its 2020 goal of hitting a 70 percent recovery rate. The key will be continued growth of markets for recovered paper. “The markets will dictate that,” he said.