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Recovered Paper Industry See Changes in Material Availability

Posted on: December 17th, 2021

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It was another busy year for the recovered paper industry as demand remained high for much of 2021, driven largely by e-commerce and the need for more corrugated boxes and more sustainable protective packaging solutions – helping keep products and the planet safe.

However, changes in how and what we recycle across the country have caused shifts in the recovered paper industry and how manufacturers use these raw materials in their operations.

Organizations that have relied heavily on newsprint as a recyclable raw material in their production have had to look elsewhere. For example, Forbes recently reported that in 2020, print circulation of weekday newspapers was down to 24.3 million. In contrast, the weekday newspaper circulation in 1990 was 63.2 million.

Now cardboards – which are readily available thanks to the e-commerce explosion during the pandemic – are being shredded and converted to a viable alternative – especially for the protective packaging industry, which supplies roll cradles, among others.

Additionally, with many offices still allowing their employees to work remotely, offices are no longer generating the volume of paper office waste they used to, which was often coveted for creating toilet paper. As a result, they, too, have had to rethink their mixtures to keep store shelves stocked as the recovered paper industry changes.

Another reality of the pandemic is that as more people spend time at home, municipal waste and recycling volumes at the curb increase dramatically. However, budget deficits and shortages in labor are causing many municipalities to either reduce their recycling collection or eliminate the collection programs. That means less raw materials available for recovery and recycling and more “trash” clogging up landfills.

As we head into the end of the year, some material recovery facility (MRF) operators are beginning to see a decline in demand. For example, an operator in the Midwest (who chose to be anonymous) stated that August and September remained strong, but “What we’re hearing is now mills are full, and phones are not ringing for additional loads.”

As with many other industries, the recovered paper industry believes the decline is seasonal due to Thanksgiving and Christmas, with buyers already filling their inventory with the raw materials needed to create protective packaging and other corrugated supplies.

While predictions for a return to normalcy for recycling programs and usage are optimistic for 2022, much of that will depend on the omicron variant and how it impacts society as a whole.

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