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AF&PA Releases New Design Guide to Further Advance Paper Recycling

Design Guidance for Recyclability The Design Guidance for Recyclability provides data on how certain non-fiber elements, such as coatings and additives, impact the recyclability of paper-based packaging.

March 2, 2021 - Building on the sustainability success of paper based packaging and recycling, the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) today released a new tool, The Design Guidance for Recyclability, a data-driven resource to aid packaging designers and brands in the design and manufacture of packaging to meet recyclability goals.

The guide provides data on how certain non-fiber elements, such as coatings and additives, impact the recyclability of paper-based packaging.

"Paper recycling is a circular economy success story. Increasingly, consumers are seeking more sustainable packaging, and as a result, brands are challenged to add more recyclable packaging to their portfolio. Combining our industry's track record on paper recycling - meeting or exceeding a 63 percent recycling rate since 2009 - along with AF&PA's industry data and statistics, this guide will be a true asset to those seeking to innovate around sustainable packaging. I am confident that a deeper understanding, as to the complexities brands and packaging designers face in balancing design and performance with recyclability, will further advance paper recycling innovation," said Heidi Brock, AF&PA President and CEO.

The findings in the report are the result of an AF&PA member survey of company mills in a range of sectors in the United States and Canada. The survey had a 75 percent response rate. In total, data for 86 mills was reported.

The study included corrugated packaging, bleached and unbleached paperboard cartons, carrier stock cartons, Kraft paper bags, multiwall shipping sacks and molded fiber containers. The study examined numerous non-fiber elements including inks and dyes, adhesives, tapes and labels, coatings and barriers, metals and plastics, foils, wet strength, and non-tree fibers.

Key findings include:

  • Non-fiber elements may present a recycling "challenge" when they slow down the mill's pulping process, plug screening systems or leave residue on finished paper or paperboard. However, innovations in packaging design and materials, as well as improvements in recycling technology, have made these treatments easier to recycle than historically.
  • Being a "challenge" does not mean "not recyclable." Each non-fiber element applied to each kind of packaging was rated by some mills as not a "challenge."

"This technical guidance is not meant to be mandatory or a standard for the packaging industry. Rather, it is an information tool to help individuals and organizations that specify and design packaging to better meet a customer's recycling needs," said Brian Hawkinson, AF&PA's Executive Director of Recovered Fiber.

In addition to data about the impact non-fiber elements have on packaging recyclability, the report includes resources about the recycling process, standards and testing facilities and insights from mills on specific non-fiber elements.

The Design Guidance for Recyclability is available for free download at:

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance a sustainable U.S. pulp, paper, packaging, tissue and wood products manufacturing industry through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. AF&PA member companies make products essential for everyday life from renewable and recyclable resources and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry's sustainability initiative — Better Practices, Better Planet 2020.

The forest products industry accounts for approximately four percent of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures approximately $300 billion in products annually, and employs nearly 950,000 men and women. The industry meets a payroll of approximately $55 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 45 states. Visit AF&PA online at or follow AF&PA on Twitter @ForestandPaper.


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