U.S. Paper Industry Reaches Record for Containerboard Production in 2021

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) today released preliminary 2021 data from U.S. paper and paperboard mills indicating record containerboard production, the material used to make cardboard boxes.

The preliminary data indicates total containerboard production in 2021 increased 5.6 percent compared to 2020, the ninth increase in the past 10 years.

“Paper products and materials like containerboard help to meet the needs of consumers seeking sustainable choices,” said AF&PA President and CEO Heidi Brock. “These are some of the most-recycled materials in the United States – in fact, more paper by weight is recycled from municipal waste streams than plastic, glass, steel and aluminum combined.”

Based on this information, the consumption of old-corrugated containers (OCC) may also reach record numbers with data to be published by AF&PA on Thursday, January 20, 2022.

OCC consumption is strongly tied to production of containerboard, and through November 2021 consumption already reached 22.2 million tons, just shy of the previous full-year record set in 2020.

“Consumer demand is growing for sustainable paper products, and our industry is investing to meet evolving customer and consumer needs,” Brock said. “AF&PA members are dedicated to advancing the circular economy and our shared commitment to sustainability, as demonstrated by our Better Practices Better Planet 2030 goals.”

Paper recycling rates have grown over time and remain consistently high, meeting or exceeding 63 percent since 2009. In 2020, nearly 66 percent of paper was recycled.

“Paper recycling is a success story,” Brock said. “That’s because of the industry’s investments, education efforts, the wide availability of paper recycling programs, and the many millions of Americans who recycle each day.”

The paper industry has completed or announced around $5 billion in manufacturing infrastructure investments from 2019-2023 to continue the best use of recycled fiber in our products. These investments will help increase the amount of recovered paper used by U.S. paper and paperboard mills by approximately 8 million tons – a 25 percent increase over 2020 levels.

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