In my last post, we explained how a limited amount of certified fiber exists, especially in regions with a high percentage of private landownership. What many people don’t realize is that a similar issue exists for recycled fiber stemming from recovered paper products.
There are limits to the amount of available recycled content partially because paper can only be recycled between five and seven times before its fibers lose strength and disintegrate. Since recycled fiber breaks down with each use, the input of virgin fiber into the paper stream is essential. In fact, without the addition of fresh fiber into the system, printing paper production would halt within weeks!
Another factor adding to this limited supply is the rising demand for recycled fiber overseas, particularly from Asia. In 2012, 41% of recovered paper was exported, primarily to China. This high percentage of material exiting the North American market is due to the region’s increasing number of papermaking operations but relatively few forest resources. North America’s consumption economy also plays a part. Since we import more goods than we export, the would-be empty shipping containers being sent back are instead filled with recovered material.
The good news is that paper is one of the most recycled products on the planet. In fact, in 2012 65.1% of paper and paperboard entering the municipal waste stream was recycled in the US, nearly doubling the 33.5% rate in 1990. This far outpaces the 2010 EPA collection of other materials rates, including 27.1% for glass, 19.9% for aluminum and 8.2% for plastic.
Just as we contribute to efforts that encourage fiber certification, Domtar promotes efforts aimed at helping to close the loop on the fiber lifecycle to increase availability. Our partnership with Recyclebank works to increase awareness of the benefits of responsible paper production, use and recycling. Through increased collaboration, we hope to make Recyclebank’s mission of realizing a world in which nothing is wasted a reality.
For more information on the topic of recycled fiber, please read Domtar’s white paper on the subject, completed in partnership with GreenBlue.