Recycling is a series of activities by which material that has reached the end of its current use is processed into material utilized in the production of new products.

This week we’ll take a look at what’s happening within the world of recycling with a special focus on paper.

PAPER RECYCLING  –  Some Basic Facts

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, paper accounts for about half of all recyclables collected in the U.S., by weight. About forty-three million tons of paper and paperboard were recovered in 2013—a recycling rate of about 63 percent.

shredded office paper

Shredded Office Paper

The U.S. paper recovery rate increased by 1.4 percentage points in 2015 to a record-high 66.8 percent. The previous high point of 66.4 percent was recorded in 2011.

The paper recovery rate measured 33.5 percent back in 1990, which was the base year against which the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) began setting its recovery goals.

AF&PA member companies have set a goal to increase the U.S. paper recovery rate to more than 70 percent by 2020. The 2015 numbers point to clear progress towards meeting the goal.

An estimated 58.6 percent of printing-writing papers were recovered for recycling in 2015, which is up from 53.0 percent in 2013 and 57.7 percent in 2014. The actual tonnage of printing-writing papers recovered for recycling declined 3.3 percent in 2015 but domestic purchases of these papers (i.e., new supply) fell by a more substantial 4.9 percent, which caused the recovery rate to increase.

Where Recovered Paper GoesData for the year 2015 indicate that 33.4 percent of the paper and paperboard recovered in the U.S. went to produce container board (i.e., the material used for corrugated boxes) and 11.8 percent went to produce boxboard, which includes base stock for folding boxes and gypsum wallboard facings. Net exports of recovered paper to China and other nations accounted for 39.8 percent of the paper collected for recycling in the U.S in 2015.  There are also some domestic uses of recovered paper outside the paper industry, including as base materials for insulation and molded pulp products.

Interested in starting an office paper recycling program? Download the Workplace Recycling Guide to learn more about how you can involve your office.

RECYCLING IN GENERAL

Find Recycling Locations for Materials from A-Z – With over 350 materials and 100,000+ listings, Earth911.com maintains one of North America’s most extensive databases. To get started, enter in the material you are trying to recycle along with your zip code and click search.

Habitat for Humanity ReStores are nonprofit home improvement stores and donation centers that sell new and gently used furniture, appliances, home accessories, building materials and more to the public at a fraction of the retail price.  ReStores are independently owned and operated by local Habitat for Humanity organizations. Proceeds are used to help build strength, stability, self-reliance and shelter in local communities and around the world. Habitat ReStores divert hundreds of tons from landfills each year, accepting hard-to-dispose-of items including new and used furniture, appliances and surplus building materials. In many cases, pickup service is provided for large items.

ReStore Habitat for Humanity

ReStore Habitat for Humanity in Hall County, GA

How2Recycle is a standardized labeling system that clearly communicates recycling instructions to the public. It involves a coalition of forward thinking brands who want their packaging to be recycled and are empowering consumers through smart packaging labels. Each How2Recycle label is based on the best availability of recycling data available, as well as critical technical insights from Association of Plastic Recyclers, Recycled Paperboard Alliance, and other insightful industry experts.

RecycleYourPlastics.org is an easy to use resource on plastics recycling for recycling professionals. The site includes resources such as user-friendly tips and tools, best practices, ready access to experts and peers in the recycling world and more.  Funding for RecycleYourPlastics.org is provided by the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council, representing leading makers of plastic resins.

Quick solutions to the most common recycling mistakesThe biggest contaminants are plastic bags, liquids, food, garden hoses, Christmas-tree lights, wire hangers, electronics, propane tanks, and auto parts.  Recycle plastic bags at grocery store locations that accept them.  If a bundle of recyclables reaches a 10% contamination rate, the manufacturer that purchases the recyclable materials can reject the load and charge back the cost to the sorting center.  When in doubt throw it out.

Jeff Foote

Jeff Foote is Executive Vice President, Sustainability at TreeZero. He’s also an investor. He has helped hundreds of organizations, both large and small, successfully incorporate sustainability strategies into core business functions. Jeff has traveled to all seven continents working to protect and preserve the environment. Jeff’s mission is to help organizations and individuals use fewer resources to sell more, more profitably.