Recycling During the Pandemic: 2020 Paper and Cardboard Recycling Rates Are In!

May 13, 2021

Paper Recycling 

The 2020 paper recycling rate came in at 65.7 percent a consistently high rate – down only slightly from 66.2 percent in 2019.   

Why It Matters 

Despite the fact that the pandemic: 

  • disrupted manufacturing  

  • affected manufacturing supply chains  

  • fundamentally changed consumer consumption patterns…  

Paper recycling rates remained largely unchanged. This is a testament to the resilience of the paper and wood products industry. 


Between the Lines 

The decline was largely the result of a sharp drop (-12.6 percent) in recovered paper exports, mainly to China as the result of the country’s import restrictions. Recycled paper use at U.S. pulp and paper mills rose 0.9 percent or 286,000 tons.  

The paper recycling rate measured 33.5 percent in 1990, which was the base year against which the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) began setting its recycling goals.  

Every year since 2009 the paper recycling rate has met or exceeded 63 percent. 

Recycling Cardboard 

The cardboard recycling rate declined slightly from 92.1 percent in 2019 to 88.8 percent in 2020.  

However, the average recycling rate for the three-year period from 2018 to 2020 increased slightly to 92.4 percent.  

Between the Lines 

The volatility was largely due to changes in trade flows, with net exports of cardboard surging 29.7 percent in 2018 and then declining 23.7 percent from 2018 to 2020. 

What You Can Do 

Do your part by recycling at home and in the office, as some of us make our way back in-person. And always make sure you're checking local recycling guidelines so you know what can go in the recycling bin.