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Paper Recycling Facts

by James B. “Jim” Kea
Area Extension Forestry Agent – now retired
Thursday, February 9th, 2006

The following information supports programming efforts for SMP #18: Residential & Community Water Quality & Waste Management:


  • Office paper is actually a wide variety of paper products, including letterhead, copier paper, computer print-out and file stock. Some characteristics of these paper grades are that the fibers are longer and brighter than newspaper and packaging grades, and although they are usually white, they can be produced in color. Office paper is the easiest type of printing and writing paper to recycle.

OFFICE PAPER SOLID WASTE FACTS: (1994 E.P.A. data, nationwide)

  • Generated: – 6.8 million tons or 3.2% by weight – 52.3 pounds of office paper per person – 8.4 million tons in 1994 (industry data) – 28.6 million tons of printing and writing paper in 1994 – 220 pounds of printing and writing paper per person, 1994
  • Recycled: – 2.9 million tons for a 42.6% recycling rate – 3.1 million tons in 1994 for a 37.1% recovery rate (industry data)
  • 9.7 million tons of printing and writing paper for a 34.1% recovery rate in 1994. Office paper is the most heavily recovered segment of printing and writing paper.
  • Incinerated or Land-filled: – 3.9 million tons or 2.4% of discarded MSW by weight
  • Landfill Volume: – 11.3 million cubic yards or 2.6% of land-filled MSW (1993 data)
  • Density: – Land-filled office paper weighs 800 pounds per cubic yard – Unbaled office paper has a density of 375 to 465 pounds per cubic yard – Unbaled computer print-out paper has a density of 655 pounds/cu. yd. – Baled office paper has a density of 700 to 900 pounds per cubic yard – Baled computer print-out paper has a density of 1,310 pounds/cu.yd.
  • Recycled Content: Office paper can range from 0% to !00% recycled content, depending on the consumer’s purchasing requirements and the manufacturer’s ability to use recycled office paper as a raw material.
  • Tissue mills are the primary market for recycled office paper; other uses are printing and writing paper, paperboard packaging, and exports. In 1990, more than half of recovered office paper was exported (mostly to Pacific Rim countries). There has been a tremendous increase in recycled paper mills during this past decade.

Source: Miller, Chaz. Waste Age, June 1996, pp. 45-46.

— Rhonda L Sherman Solid Waste Management Specialist Biological & Agricultural Engineering North Carolina State University Box 7625, Raleigh, NC 27695-7625 (919) 515-6770; FAX (919) 515-6772

Revised 2/16/2006.