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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
In the first of this series of articles in coming weeks, we listed the six sustainability goals in the American Forest & Paper Association's "Better Practices, Better Planet 2020" program. Now we are beginning to take closer looks at each of the six goals, examine how they are working in the USA, and look at some global applications--existing and planned--of conservation and sustainability targets. This is an examination of the first goal AF&PA lists, paper recovery and recycling.

The membership organization's goal is to exceed 70% paper recovery by 2020. The industry's 2013 paper recovery rate was 63.5%. That rate was down slightly from the 2011 level and 2012's 64.6% recovery rate, a slippage due in no small measure to recession-induced paper manufacturing cutbacks and lowered consumer demand as the recession wore on. US paper and board production declined by 4.9% in 2008 and 10.6 in 2009. Declines in production have continued through 2013, but at much smaller rates, only 0.8% in 2013.

Still, the amount of paper recovered in the USA has increased by more than 70% since the industry first began setting recovery goals in 1990. In that year, the first goal was to achieve a 40% recovery rate by 1998, a level actually achieved in 1994. The first year in which more paper was recycled than sent to landfills was 1993.

According to AF&PA, approximately 2.5 times more paper is recycled than is sent to landfills, and every ton of paper recovered for recycling saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space. AF&PA also says that its member companies' use of recovered fiber resulted in avoidance of 18 million tons of CO2 equivalents in 2013.

Approximately 78% of all US mills use some recovered fiber to make everything from packaging board to tissue, office papers and newsprint. Data from the US Environmental Protection Agency show that the percent recovery of paper and board today far and away exceeds the rates for any other recovered substances, including plastics, glass, and all metals. According to the Bureau of International Recycling, about 50% of recovered paper comes from industry and business and includes trimmings and manufacturing waste. More than a third of the gatherings come from households, with the remainder brought in by commercial collectors.

Recovered paper sorted or processed in the USA had a 2012 market value of $8.4 billion, according to AF&PA and the value of recovered paper exports totaled $3.1 billion in 2013.

US progress in recovery and reuse is commendable, but has not reached the levels attained in some other countries. The European Recovered Paper Council announced last year a 71.7% recycling rate for Europe. In 13 European countries paper recycling rates exceed 70%, while 11 countries remain under the 60% level. It becomes more and more difficult to raise the bar from such rates. Worldwide, the continued decline in newspaper consumption is affecting recovery rates, as ONP has been a traditional mainstay of recovery efforts, along with paperboard boxes. The boxes are out there, but the newspapers are not.

Chuck Swann is the senior editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at chuck.swann@taii.com.


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