Bales of paper for recycling.

Industry group American Forest & Paper Association announced that in the U.S. market 49 million short tons of fiber products were recycled in 2019.| franz12/Shutterstock

Export market turmoil caused a lower recycling rate for paper and paperboard in 2019, an industry group announced. The decline comes after a record year for paper recycling in 2018.

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) on May 12 announced that 49 million short tons of fiber products were recycled in 2019. That was out of a total 74 million short tons of finished paper products sold into the U.S. market.

The resulting 66.2% recycling rate is down slightly from the 68.1% rate in 2018.

“The decline was largely the result of a sharp drop in recovered paper exports (-13.6%) – mainly to China as the result of the country’s import restrictions,” AF&PA wrote.

Despite being lower than the year before, the 2019 figure is squarely within the range of recent years’ paper recycling rates. For instance, the 2017 rate was 65.9%, 2016 was 67.2%, 2015 was 66.8% and 2014 was 65.2%.

The numbers take into account mixed paper, old newspaper and other mechanical papers, OCC, pulp substitutes and high-grade deinked paper. AF&PA also calculates recycling rates for individual grades, and in 2019, the association found 92% of U.S. OCC was recovered for recycling. That was down from 96.2% in 2018 but up from 88.8% in 2017.

“The volatility was largely the result of trade flows, with net exports of OCC surging 30% in 2018 and then declining 14% in 2019,” according to the industry association.

In separate paper news, AF&PA on May 13 published annual figures about U.S. capacity for paper and pulp manufacturing. Among other findings, the survey found that containerboard production capacity increased 1.5% in 2019, making it the ninth consecutive year of capacity increases for the material.

Containerboard in 2019 made up 48.6% of U.S. paper and paperboard capacity, according to AF&PA, up from 39.3% in 2009.

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