European Recovered Paper Council


Recycling Facts

Recycling Facts gives a short and comprehensible introduction to paper recycling, its development, achievements and current challenges. It also leads the reader to more comprehensive documents on the various aspects of paper recycling. Recycling Facts can be used for communication on the beneficial effects of paper recycling for society and the environment. Recycling is part of the sustainable development approach as it is part of the paper cycle and closes the paper loop.

Why recycle paper?

Because it makes sense from an economic and ecologic standpoint. Paper recycling is perceived by the public as being the most effective way to reduce environmental impacts of using paper. For the industry, recycled fibres are an indispensable source of raw materials, supporting industry’s resource efficiency.

Thousands of years of tradition!

Paper has always been recycled to produce new paper. The growth in collection was initially modest and varied greatly between countries in Europe. Paper recycling boomed in the 1990s. Back in 1990 the recycling rate was around 40% compared to 50% 10 years later, and 72% in 2009.

Comparison between regions

It is possible to rank different regions according to utilisation, collection and recycling activity. The CEPI recycling rate is well above the North American rate and world average levels. While Asia’s utilisation rate is higher than that in the CEPI area, this is only possible because Asian countries import great volumes of recovered paper from North America and Europe, where collection and waste management are highly developed.

Who recycles paper?

The paper industry is the recycler of recovered paper. The European Court of Justice ruled a position on this issue in the “Mayer Parry case” in 2003[1], but to ensure the good functioning of recycling, the whole paper chain has to be involved. The waste management industries as well as the recovered paper merchants contribute to raising the quantity and quality of recovered paper available for recycling. The consumers need to be informed about their role in closing the paper loop.

[1] European Court of Justice, Case C-444/00 of 19 June 2003 on Mayer Parry

Paper for recycling collection

More than 60 million tonnes of used paper are collected in Europe. The collection rate of paper for recycling is constantly increasing, exceeding 60% every year since 2005. Main sources of paper collection: 50% from trade and industry, 40% from households, and 10% from offices. Future potential: mainly households and offices, as the industrial sources are already utilised to a large extent.

Who collects?

Legally, the municipalities have the responsibility to organise the collection of waste and therefore are often the owners of the waste. The paper industry, to achieve its recycling goals, cooperates with municipalities, paper for recycling collectors, waste managers, publishers and packaging manufacturers. The new Waste Directive obliges member states to set up separate collection of inter alia paper by 2015.

Why is the paper industry favouring separate collection?

For many years, the paper industry has done a lot of work to improve the quality of used paper collection. Separate collection increases the quality of paper for recycling, therefore all actors, even households, must recognise that they are handling a secondary raw material and not waste, and accept the responsibilities this implies. Some countries collect old newspapers and magazines from households separately from paper and board packaging. Sometimes all papers are collected together. What is decisive is that paper and board for recycling is collected separately from other materials and in particular separately from household waste.

Are there limits to the recycling of paper?

A fibre can be recycled several times, yet not indefinitely, depending on the paper grade, therefore there is a continuous need to feed the inflow of recovered fibre with paper products made of virgin pulp. The share of non-collectable and non-recyclable paper is, for technical reasons, estimated to be 19% of the total paper and board consumption, such as libraries, archives, sanitary paper, etc... Consequently the theoretical maximum collection rate would be 81% instead of 100%. The more one approaches this threshold, the less benefit can be made from it (long transportation, no economies of scale, etc.). Many countries have already reached this threshold.

Paper for recycling utilisation

The paper industry is the largest recycler in Europe. Recovered fibres are particularly suited for applications such as newsprint and packaging, but also fine papers can be based on recycled fibres. However, for some "higher quality" publication paper and some packaging applications, for example, only top quality paper for recycling can be used but it is not available in large quantities.

Newsprint is a big user of paper for recycling. Its utilisation rate of recovered paper has reached 87.5% (2009).

Other main users of paper for recycling:

  • Packaging: 62% of the total volumes, especially case materials which alone utilise almost half of the paper for recycling stock (= 23 million tonnes).
  • The utilisation rate for household and sanitary papers is still above 50% but has decreased from higher levels in recent years. The main explanation for this is the consumers’ increasing choice for soft hygiene products. Softness is more efficiently reached through utilisation of virgin fibres.
  • The fresh fibres in magazines and other high grades are needed for renewing the recovered fibre wealth. They serve the functioning of the paper loop.

Paper for recycling quality

Quality and quantity are to a certain degree linked, as it is a challenge to maintain the quality of paper for recycling while quantities are increasing. The increased collection of paper in total, and especially the increasing share of paper for recycling coming from households, would, if not addressed adequately, result in a higher level of impurities. The paper industry is therefore continuously improving practices to maintain the quality of paper for recycling whereas the collection rate is increasing.

A set of quality guidelines for recovered paper has been launched by CEPI partly together with other European associations from the paper chain. The CEPI guidelines for responsible sourcing and supply of paper for recycling define the requirements that have to be taken into account in each step of the chain (collection, sorting, transportation, storage, use). Responsible sourcing has an impact on the overall sustainability of the industry: It improves working conditions and the availability of recovered fibres and it significantly contributes to environmental performance by reducing the amount of rejects and decreasing unnecessary transportation of (non-recyclable) material.

Can paper for recycling be traced?

The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), the European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services (FEAD) and the European Recovered Paper Association (ERPA) have set up the Recovered Paper Identification System to identify the origin of the paper for recycling purchased, received, stored and consumed by the paper mills.

This European Recovered Paper Identification System starts at suppliers’ sources and depots and ends at the conveyor to the pulper: every member in the paper for recycling chain has to keep track of his/her supplier. More information can be found at

The Recovered Paper Identification System is complementary to any legal requirements and to the delivery document.

Is there a European standard for paper and board for recycling?

Yes, the European List of Standard Grades of Paper and Board for Recycling can be found in a European Standard EN 643. It divides recovered paper into five groups: ordinary grades, medium grades, high grades, kraft grades and special grades. Each of these groups has some subgroups which specify the recovered paper grade at a detailed level. The EN 643 also defines and sets tolerance levels such as unusable materials, non-paper components, paper and board detrimental to production and moisture content.

Is recycled paper appropriate for food contact?

It is indeed. The paper industry has developed standards and good manufacturing practice for materials intended for food contact applications, however certain paper streams are inappropriate as raw materials for the production of paper and board intended to come into contact with foodstuffs. These paper streams are defined in the Council of Europe Resolution AP (2002) on paper and board materials and articles intended to come into contact with foodstuffs. Examples for inappropriate paper streams are recovered paper and board mixed with garbage, waste paper from households containing used hygienic paper, contaminated waste paper from hospitals and old archives, if they contain PCBs.

Trade of paper for recycling

Paper for recycling is a commodity on international markets just like any other product and is increasingly traded. Western Europe and North America have well developed collection systems whereas Asia, and particularly China, depends on imports of recovered paper.

Material recycling versus other recovery options

Other recovery options include re-use, organic recycling and incineration. Re-use in particular has been given strong support in some countries (e.g. the German deposit on beverage cans). Promotion of re-use ignores all the other environmental aspects, for example the renewability and safety as well as the impact of return transportation and washing of re-used material, however paper and board products are also commonly re-used, without needing to be washed or otherwise prepared - another benefit of paper!

Biomass incineration:
Due to its renewable origin, recovered paper is considered as biomass and therefore a renewable energy resource. It is true that incineration of used paper generates renewable energy and therefore allows the substitution of fossil fuels but it is more efficient to burn used fibres only when they can no longer be recycled. The paper industry therefore asks that no subsidies for incineration should be introduced where material recycling is sustainable. Additionally, the new Waste Directive gives recycling a clear priority over incineration.

Due to its biological origin, used paper is biodegradable and compostable. The new Waste Directive includes composting in material recycling, however, the difference is that once paper is composted it disappears from the paper recycling loop. For materials that are not suitable for recycling, for example paper soiled with food, composting would be a good alternative to incineration or landfilling, and used paper bags are a good carrier for bio-waste. At the moment, any paper going for composting is not included in the calculation for the European recycling rate.

The European Declaration on paper for recycling

This voluntary industry initiative adopted in 2000 boosted paper recycling in the last decade. Its target to increase the recycling rate from 49% to 56% by 2005 has been reached and a new commitment has been made for the period of 2006-2010.

The 2nd European Declaration on Paper Recycling

Building on the success of the first commitment, the industry committed to reach a recycling rate of 66% by 2010 in its new Declaration on Paper Recycling. Even though high recycling rates were already reached, the paper industry was aiming to do even better and was expecting a further increase of paper recycling.

The new Declaration covered a wider range of topics and ensured broad participation along the paper chain. It set out measures which aim to ensure eco-design of paper and board products and waste prevention in all the concerned sectors.

A new Declaration for 2011-2015 is being prepared and will be published in September 2011.

European progress in paper recycling