When it comes to the environment, one great American success story that’s often overlooked is the dramatic increase in paper recycling over the last two decades. As awareness of paper recycling has grown and a sound, market-driven recovery and recycling infrastructure has evolved, the amount of paper recovered annually for recycling has increased 75% since 1990! There’s no better example of how consumer education and public-private collaboration can lead to true environmental improvement. Not only are we continuing to extend the use of a valuable natural resource – wood fiber from sustainably managed forests – but we’re also sending 50% less paper to landfills.
Think about this: In 2012, more than 51 million tons of paper products were voluntarily recovered for recycling in the U.S. – that’s 65.1% of all paper produced. Break that down into a number we can relate to individually and you get roughly 323 pounds recycled for every man, woman and child in the country. When you consider that one ream of 8.5” x 11” office paper weighs about 5 pounds … well, you get the picture.
In fact, paper is leading the way when it comes to recycling. According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, paper-based products are recycled more than any other commodity in the United States, including steel at 33.8%, glass at 27.1%, aluminum at 19.9% and plastics at 8.2%.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. The paper industry has set a new goal to recover more than 70% of all U.S. paper produced by 2020. While the industry can provide resources and promote paper recycling, it’s up to the rest of us – communities, businesses and individuals – to make it happen. For inspiration, check out the stories behind the winners of the American Forest & Paper Association’s 2013 Paper Recycling Awards:
Remember, every magazine, newspaper, catalog or piece of paper you throw away is a resource wasted. If you don’t already recycle, get in the habit! And if your community, company, school or other organization doesn’t have a paper recycling program in place, don’t ask why … ask why not!
Kathi Rowzie is a Two Sides guest blogger and a sustainability communications consultant with The Gagliardi Group in Memphis, Tennessee.