Paper and paper-based packaging is by far the largest component of solid waste in landfills, most of which can be recovered and recycled. 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, nearly 31% was paper.1 Any paper that can be recovered, but is not, has an economic and environmental cost.
Source: AF&PA, PPPC (Pulp and Paper Products Council)
Total Municipal Solid Waste in U.S. (by material), 2008
250 Million Tons (before recycling)
Source: U.S. EPA (2008)1
Optimal Recovery Rate
Recovery rates have been increasing in North America for over a decade. In 2009 more than 63% of the paper and paperboard consumed in the U.S. was recovered2. Canada recovered over 66% in 20093. Europe recovered 72.2% in 2009, which exceeded a goal set for 20104.
There is a theoretical recovery rate at which point, the supply of high quality waste paper (printing and writing/paperboard) becomes exhausted. At this point the recovered fiber supply expands to include lower quality paper waste that is more difficult economically and technically to collect, sort, clean and re-manufacture. While currently there is significant room to improve, it is unknown what the optimal recovery rate is. As North America strives to increase recovery it will continue to face economic and technical challenges within this complex system of collection, re-manufacturing fiber utilization.
Disposing of paper in landfills has a high environmental cost. See the End of Life section of the Paper Life Cycle to learn more about the impact of paper and the landfills.
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)
2. AF&PA. “Paper and Paperboard Recovery.” Paperrecycles.org – Paper Industry Association Council. 2009. Web. 08 July 2010. (http://www.paperrecycles.org).
3. Pulp and Paper Products Council. (http://www.pppc.org/en/1_0/index.html)
4. CEPI. Key Statistics 2009 European Pulp and Paper Industry. Rep. 2009.(http://www.cepi.org/docshare/docs/2/EBAKDHEBDIAKDBBGDLCKAPFHPDBG4CHB4AV9V66OQL6C/CEPI/docs/DLS/2009_Key_Statistics_FINAL-20100624-00015-01-E.pdf)