Fiber Recovery And Overall Trends
Paper recovery is one of the best — and yet little-known — environmental success stories in the world. The market for recovered fiber is strong, and is expected to grow by 35 percent between 2008 and 2018. This market is driven not by government mandates, but by economics. Recovered fiber can serve as a low-cost alternative to new wood fiber in many products. Today well over half the fiber used for papermaking around the world is recovered fiber (see chart).*
Because recovering paper makes economic sense, it happens at a high rate. Globally, about 55 percent of paper is recovered, and some countries have significantly higher recovery rates: Europe, 71 percent; Japan, 70 percent; and the United States, 64 percent. By contrast, the U.S. EPA reports that plastics are recovered in the United States at only a 9 percent rate and electronics at 25 percent.
Beyond economics, recovering wood fiber from the waste stream has three other important benefits. First, it supplies a key raw material to make useful, necessary products in regions of the world that do not have a readily available supply of sustainably managed wood, like many parts of Asia.
Second, it keeps the wood fiber from ending up in a landfill, extending the life of the landfill. It also means that the methane gas that would have been created if paper decomposed in a landfill (without oxygen) is avoided; methane is a potent greenhouse gas. (Paper decomposing in the presence of oxygen emits CO2 but not methane).
Third, recovering the fiber means it gets reused; when this is done efficiently, under market-based conditions, it makes both environmental and economic sense.