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Corrugated Recovery Hits 91%, Maintains Top Position as Most-Recycled Packaging Material

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In 2012, 91% (29 million tons) of corrugated packaging used in the U.S. was successfully recovered for recycling, maintaining its top position as the most-recycled packaging material. Recovery for recycling has increased steadily since 1993, when 54.5% of old corrugated containers (OCC) was recycled. Recovery is also helped by the widespread access to community paper and paper-based packaging recycling programs. According to the AF&P's (Washington, D.C.) Community Survey, 87% (268 million) of the U.S. population has access to curbside or drop-off recycling programs.

Of the 91% of corrugated that was recovered in 2012, more than 50% was used to make new containerboard. An additional 12% was used to make recycled paperboard, and more than 34% was exported.

Where OCC Goes
000 tons %
Containerboard 14,588 50.1
Recycled Paperboard 3,510 12.0
Packaging & Industrial 484 1.7
Tissue 224 0.9
Newsprint 0 0
Other 251 0.9
Net Exports 10,007 34.6
Total 29,134 100
Source: AF&PA

According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, Municipal Solid Waste in the United States; 2010 Facts and Figures, the corrugated and paper-based packaging industries set the standard for recovering products from the solid waste management stream.

The table below reflects data drawn from the EPA report and compares recovery rates for several major packaging materials. The data show that corrugated and paper-based packaging have the highest recovery rates among these major commodities.

Packaging Category Recovery Rates (2010) Percent change in discarded tonnage (1990-2010)
Corrugated 85% -65%
Paper-Based Packaging 71.3% -47%
Aluminum 35.8% +37%
Glass 33.4% -32%
Plastics 13.5% +78%
Source: Municipal Solid Waste in the United States; 2010 Facts and Figures

The corrugated industry continues to support the increased OCC recovery for recycling by:

  • Modernizing equipment and technology so that OCC can be used at the manufacturing facilities
  • Supporting business, community, and school recycling programs
  • Developing a repulpability/recyclability standard protocol for corrugated boxes treated for moisture resistance.

More information about paper and corrugated recycling is available online. More information.about corrugated packaging's life-cycle studies and sustainability is also available online.

The Corrugated Packaging Alliance (CPA) is a corrugated industry initiative, jointly sponsored by the AF&PA, the Association of Independent Corrugated Converters (AICC), the Fibre Box Association (FBA), and TAPPI. Its mission is to foster growth and profitability of corrugated in applications where it can be demonstrated, based on credible and persuasive evidence, that corrugated should be the packaging material of choice; and to provide a coordinated industry focus that effectively acts on industry matters that cannot be accomplished by individual members. CPA members include corrugated manufacturers and converters throughout North America.


Nalco Company
Sweed Machinery, Inc