FBA Blog

Boxes Remain a Recycling Success Story

August 15, 2023

This past week, the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) announced the recycling rate for old corrugated containers (OCC) at 93.6 percent in 2022 – an increase from 2021 with an overall three-year average of 91.3 percent.

The news comes at an important time in the discourse of recycling as states, communities and individuals increasingly take on the challenge of materials management. 

The recycling rate for OCC has remained consistently high due to a long-standing industry commitment to encourage recycling and to reuse recycled materials to make new boxes.

The AF&PA’s 2021 Access to Recycling Study found 94% of Americans have access to community recycling programs that include OCC – boxes used for everything from shipping boxes to pizza boxes. 

By recycling, the corrugated packaging industry is reusing the same box fibers again and again (and actually at least 7 times again) to make new boxes. Of the 34 million tons recycled, fifty-three percent (18 million tons) of OCC were used to produce new containerboard, another 5.5 million tons were used to make other paper products, and more than 10 million tons were exported. This reuse keeps materials in the supply chain for as long as possible and is an important step in the circularity of corrugated packaging solutions.

Boxes are the most recycled packaging material in the US and act as a large contributor to the overall paper recycling rate. More paper is recycled by weight from municipal waste streams than plastic, glass, steel, and aluminum combined.

But we didn’t get here overnight. AF&PA first published the annual recycling rate in conjunction with the introduction of the Corrugated Recycles symbol in the early 1990s. Since then, the rate has followed a steady upward trend from 54 percent in 1993 to today’s rate. The rate has hovered around 90 percent for the last decade. The OCC recycling rate is calculated annually by dividing the U.S. recovery of OCC for recycling by the U.S. supply of containerboard.

The industry began investing in recycling in the early 1970s and hasn’t looked back. AF&PA reports the paper industry has completed or announced nearly $7 billion in manufacturing investments from 2019 – 2025 that will use more than 9 million tons of recovered fiber.

The recycling of corrugated boxes is a success story – one that demonstrates our industry’s commitment to respect the environment, measure our progress and contribute to a circular economy.