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Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling

Paper and Paperboard: Material-Specific Data

In 2015, paper and paperboard (cardboard) materials comprised the largest component of municipal solid waste (MSW). For this analysis, EPA included products such as office papers, newspapers, corrugated boxes, milk cartons, tissue paper, and paper plates and cups. EPA classified products made of paper and paperboard materials as either nondurable goods or as containers and packaging, with nondurable goods being the larger category.

This web page is a brief summary of paper and paperboard material-specific data. For more comprehensive information, see the 2015 Data Tables on the Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures Report page.

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Overview

EPA measures the generation, recycling, composting, combustion with energy recovery and landfilling of paper and paperboard products.

This is an image of paper and paperboard materials in a storage area. The materials are stacked, some reaching close to the ceiling.EPA used statistics from the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) to estimate paper and paperboard generation in 2015. The total generation of paper and paperboard in MSW was 68.1 million tons in 2015. EPA estimated paper and paperboard to be 25.9 percent of total MSW generation in 2015.

The recycling rate of paper and paperboard was among the highest compared to other materials in MSW. Over 92 percent of all corrugated boxes were recycled in 2015, while newspapers/mechanical papers were recycled at a rate of 71.2 percent. Recycling of other paper and paperboard products was estimated as mixed paper; 43.6 percent of mixed nondurable paper products and 26.4 percent of mixed paper containers and packaging were recycled (See definitions of nondurable goods and containers and packaging). Approximately 45.3 million tons of post-consumer paper and paperboard were recycled in 2015 for a recycling rate of 68.6 percent. Recycling as reported by AF&PA includes both pre-consumer and post-consumer paper.

The total amount of paper and paperboard combusted in 2015 was 4.5 million tons. This was 13.3 percent of all MSW combusted that year.

In 2015, landfills received 18.3 million tons of MSW paper and paperboard. This was 13.3 percent of MSW landfilled in 2015.

Please see the EPA Methodology Document for further information on estimating the generation and management of paper and paperboard.

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Summary Table and Graph

The data below are from 1960 to 2015, relating to the total number of tons of paper and paperboard generated, recycled, composted, combusted with energy recovery and landfilled.

1960-2015 Data on Paper and Paperboard in MSW by Weight (in thousands of U.S. tons)
Management Pathway 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2005 2010 2014 2015
Generated 29,990 44,310 55,160 72,730 87,740 84,840 71,310 68,610 68,050
Recycled 5,080 6,770 11,740 20,230 37,560 41,960 44,570 44,400 45,320
Composted - - - - - - - - -
Combustion with Energy Recovery - 150 860 8,930 9,730 7,800 4,740 4,740 4,450
Landfilled 24,910 37,390 42,560 43,570 40,450 35,080 22,000 19,470 18,280

Source: American Forest and Paper Association

A dash in the table means that data is not available.

This is a graph on paper and paperboard waste management, spanning the years 1960 to 2015. This graph is measured in tons, and shows how much waste was recycled, composted, combusted with energy recovery, and landfilled.

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