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New Data: ISRI Reports Decline in Recycled Paper Exports in 2023

 by Jack McLellan,

Paper Exports from the U.S. on the Decline

New data from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) revealed that recycled paper exports from the U.S. declined 18% in 2023 compared to 2022.

In 2023, the U.S. exported approximately 13 million metric tons of recycled paper. While this is certainly an impressive number, in 2022, we exported 16 million metric tons. This makes it the lowest amount of exported paper scrap in the past five years.

Due to recent import policy changes in China, the U.S. exports paper primarily to India, Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Malaysia. India is currently the top buyer of recovered paper. However, Thailand is the only country where we’re seeing a profit on recycled paper exports.

The overall volume and value of recycled paper decreased in 2023. So what is the reason for this decrease, and what can we do to export more in 2024? GK’s recycling industry experts weighed their thoughts.

Why are Paper Exports on the Decline?

In 2019, only 38% of all paper and cardboard sent to facilities was recycled. The remaining amount was either burnt or sent to landfills.

Why is so much of this paper not being exported for recycling? There are several reasons, including:

  • After the pandemic, there was a global paper shortage from 2020-2023 because of pulp price increases, COVID-19, worker shortages, and increased paper demand.
  • Americans are recycling less: 76% of recyclables, including paper, are thrown in the trash.
  • Paper isn’t properly separated from other materials, so it is sent to landfills rather than being properly processed and recycled.
  • China has drastically reduced the amount of imported recycled material (45% less than before), such as paper, that it accepts from other countries. Consequently, the U.S. has had to diversify its buyers more.

What Can Consumers Do?

Consumer recycling is down. While not every factor can be controlled, we can still take action to increase the amount of paper and other goods we recycle.

The first and simplest solution is to raise awareness of the importance of recycling paper and other recyclables and ensure people know what can (and cannot) be recycled.

There are hundreds of websites and educational resources highlighting the benefits of recycling. Spread awareness locally about these benefits, such as resource conservation, reducing landfill waste, and reducing greenhouse gases.

Develop clear, easy-to-understand instructions so individuals can easily throw stuff in recycling without even thinking about it. For example, did you know that if there is any food on cardboard or paper, it contaminates it and makes it difficult or impossible to recycle? Or that Christmas lights will clog a machine, shutting down the whole line?

However, once paper has been recycled, recycling facilities are responsible for properly sorting it and shipping it out for reuse.

What Can Recycling Facilities Do?

If paper and other consumer goods are recycled properly without contamination from things like food waste, sorting them effectively is the key to getting more paper from the recycling facility to exportation.

Using sorting equipment and pick lines that effectively separate lights from heavyweights is essential. If the paper is sorted with other materials (e.g., plastic, food, and glass), it won’t be processed into a proper slurry. Consequently, the entire batch will have to be sent to a landfill.

Equipment such as air classifiers, which use density and aerodynamics to separate materials, are ideal for separating light materials, like paper, from other materials. The superior separation results in greater efficiency, lower contamination, and greater exports of recyclable paper.

Increase your Returns on Recycled Paper with GK

Want to separate more effectively and get greater returns on your recycled materials? Contact General Kinematics to learn more about how we can help you increase your returns on recycled materials.

Jack McLellan

Marketing Coordinator

Jack specializes in creating compelling digital marketing content such as social media, blog posts, newsletters, and more. He works with General Kinematics industry experts to develop educational content for the foundry, recycling, mining, and aggregate industries.