In Depth

What Goes Into the Landfill?

How much recoverable paper goes to landfill each year? Each year, 34 million tons of paper1 was thrown away in 2008 due to end-user choice or because recovery was not feasible. This represents a source of fiber that could be used to make paper.

Total Municipal Solid Waste in U.S. (by material), 2008

250 Million Tons (before recycling)

Source: U.S. EPA1

Canadian and U.S. recyclers utilize 34% of all paper consumed in the U.S. and Canada
• 19% of the paper consumed in the U.S. is recovered and exported

• 20% is unrecoverable tissue products and retained documents
• 28% is landfilled and potentially recoverable

Poor recycling habits, lack of awareness, and limited collection infrastructure are the greatest challenges in improving the amount of recovered paper. Today, North Americans discard enough paper to make it by far the largest component of solid waste in landfills. Most of this paper can be recovered and re-used for recycled paper products and other uses. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), of the 250 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in the United States in 2008, 31% was paper. Any paper that can be recovered—but is not—has high economic and environmental costs.


Source: U.S. EPA

1. US EPA. Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008. Rep. no. EPA-530-F-009-021. National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP), 2009. (http://www.epa.gov/wastes/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2008rpt.pdf)