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Paper

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Recycling Industry

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Joe Pickard
Chief Economist
Director, Commodities

JoePickard@isri.org
(202) 662-8542

Paper Commodity

Recovered Paper and Fiber

Paper

Recovered fiber, also known as recovered paper and board, is one of the most widely recycled materials in the world. Since 1990, Americans have recycled approximately one billion tons of recovered fiber as the recovery rate for paper and paperboard in the U.S. nearly doubled to reach 65.1 percent in 2012.

The paper recycling segment of the scrap recycling industry collects, sorts, and processes the recovered fiber into specification grade products that were valued at $8.4 billion in 2012. These products are sold and transported to paper mills at home and worldwide for production into new packaging, office paper, tissue, newsprint, and a multitude of other paper products. In the United States, approximately 76 percent of paper mills rely on recovered fiber to make some or all of their products due in part to recovered paper’s significant cost and energy savings. In addition, the paper and fiber recovered in the U.S: helps to meet growing overseas demand: recovered paper was exported to 85 different countries last year at a value of approximately $3.5 billion, not including the tremendous environmental benefits and energy savings, while significantly helping our balance of trade.

Paper Grades

Recovered paper can be grouped into several main categories including:

OCC: An acronym for old corrugated containers, OCC contains a rippled middle layer that is sandwiched between two layers of linerboard. Mills use old corrugated containers to make new recycled-content shipping boxes, as well as recycled paperboard for product packaging.

ONP: Before your daily newspaper becomes old newspaper, or ONP, that is ready for recycling, it goes through several name changes. It begins life as newsprint, defined as the paper purchased and used by newspaper publishers. Once printed, it is called newspaper, which is shipped to distributors and newsstands. Only after being distributed to customers does it become ONP. Mills primarily use ONP to make new newsprint and in recycled paperboard and tissue, among other grades.

Mixed paper: Mixed paper is a broad category that often includes items such as discarded mail, telephone books, paperboard, magazines, and catalogs.

High-Grade Deinked Paper: This grade is made of high grade paper such as letterhead, copier paper, envelopes, and printer and converter scrap that has gone through the printing process. It must first be deinked before it can be reprocessed into high-grade paper products such as printing and writing papers or tissue.

Pulp substitutes: Also high-grade papers, pulp substitutes are often shavings and clippings from converting operations at paper mills and print shops. Mills can use pulp substitutes in place of virgin materials to make high-grade paper products.

Sources: ISRI and EPA

View historical data on U.S. paper and paperboard supply, recovery and recovery rates.

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Join the Paper Division

ISRI members who work with paper are encouraged to join the Paper Division. 

Contact Jonathan Levy for more information.