“The recovered paper utilization rate in containerboard has been relatively stable during recent years, but it increased from 27 percent in 1990 to 47.3 percent in 2000 and reached 48.4 percent in 2015.”
Advancements in papermaking technology and the availability of high-quality fiber have made it possible to reuse more old corrugated containers (OCC) in the manufacturing process while at the same time maintaining the strength characteristics of new boxes, notes the Corrugated Packaging Alliance. Increased recycled fiber content should have a positive influence in terms of cost and carbon footprint reduction.
The recovered paper utilization rate in containerboard has been relatively stable during recent years, but it increased from 27 percent in 1990 to 47.3 percent in 2000 and reached 48.4 percent in 2015. The amount of fiber reused in boxes varies for different applications, with recycled content being as high as 100 percent for packaging many consumer product goods items and as low as 38.4 percent for packaging direct food contact items like fresh produce.
Corrugated products can be made from 100 percent new fiber, 100 percent recycled fiber, or a blend of these fibers. The worldwide market needs both new and recycled fiber to produce the best quality of corrugated material and ensure a consistent and sustainable supply.
The OCC recovery rate reached a record-high 92.9 percent in 2015 in the U.S. The increase was driven by a 3.5 percent increase in domestic consumption of recovered fiber and a 10.6 percent jump in OCC exports.
As reported by the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), OCC recovery has been climbing steadily since the 1990s. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, notes OCC recovery to be higher than any other in the municipal waste stream.
How Is Recovered/Recycled Corrugated Used?
More than 51 percent of OCC recovered in 2015 was used to make new containerboard for more corrugated boxes, which, on average, include approximately 50 percent recycled content. An additional 11.5 percent was used to make boxboard (for primary packaging like cereal boxes), and more than 32 percent was exported. Global demand for OCC has grown steadily as well, helping ensure a viable market for U.S. recovered fiber.
The recovery rate of corrugated has been augmented by the industry’s commitment to educating retailers, packagers, and consumers on the simplicity and benefits of recycling corrugated materials. In 1994, the “Corrugated Recycles” symbol was introduced in the U.S.; the International Corrugated Case Association adopted it three years later. Today, the symbol is present on a majority of corrugated packaging.