Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Ohio State University Fact Sheet

Community Development

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Paper, Paper Packaging and the Waste Stream

CDFS 135

Paula Hook
Joe E. Heimlich

Worldwide Commodity

Try to imagine a world without paper. Paper and paperboard products are everywhere:

Paper is a valuable commodity, vital to the growth and development of any country, its communication and packaging systems.

According to a 1986 study, 187 million tons of paper and paperboard were produced worldwide in 1984. Valued at (U.S.) $100 thousand million, that was 1 percent of the world's total economy.

Table 1. Paper Products: Major Exporting Countries
1st Canada
2nd Finland
3rd Sweden
4th United States
5thFederal Republic (West) Germany

While 90 countries produce paper products, the five major exporting countries (see Table I) account for 66 percent of the volume traded. Canada, for example, is the leading exporter of newsprint and the United States is its largest customer. Finland and Sweden export primarily to the United Kingdom, and the United States to Latin America, while the Federal Republic of (West) Germany sends most of its paper products to France. Although almost every country consumes paper or paperboard, 75 countries must import these products because they themselves have no means of production.

Valued at (U.S.) $30 million, 39 million tons of paper plus 21 million tons of pulp were traded internationally in 1984. That represented 1 1/2 percent of the world merchandise exports. By 1995, the amount of paper traded is expected to increase to 55 million tons, while the consumption of pulp will probably increase from 140 million tons (1984) to 177 million tons (1995).

While there will be an anticipated increase in paper and pulp consumption worldwide, the ratio of pulp content will begin to decrease. More paper producers will make use of recycled paper, thus decreasing the dependency on pulp.

Recycling paper is an industrial process using a higher grade of clean waste paper to contribute to the production of a lower grade, such as kraft brown bags, cardboard boxes, of office bond paper, and newspapers.

Paper is originally made from highly compressed and heated cellulose filers from the young, tender, soft woods. These "paper pulp trees" are specifically grown and harvested as a cash agricultural crop. Fields are replanted in 7- to 25-year cycles depending on the type of tree grown.

There are more than 90 grades of paper in various categories: packaging, newsprint, office grade, tissue grade, m magazines, box boards, and corrugated containers. 'line grade is determined by the quality of the fibers as well as the level of contaminants found. Longer fibers and cleaner paper result in a higher grade and higher potential market price. Possible contaminants that lower grade and price include: paper clips, staples, wax coatings, dirt and food waste.

Since the recycling process breaks apart paper fibers, paper products cannot be re-recycled indefinitely. Most recycling then combines the strength found in the long fibers of pulp with the absorbency of shorter fibers from waste paper. This reduces the dependency on pulp and encourages the recycling of paper products.

United States: Producer and Consumer

As a major consumer and producer of paper goods, the United States contributes to the changes occurring in the world. The production of paper products for all developed countries (such as the United States) is expected to increase considerably through 1995, while consumption in those same countries only moderately increases. That difference, between higher production and less usage, will be offset by the increasing imports of the developing countries.

Standard of living is the main influence on the amount of packaging and wrapping grades of paper used by a country. As the standard of living increases, so does the need for more and varied types of paper.

Another influence on paper consumption is the literacy rate. With every 1 percent increase in the literacy rate for a particular country, there is a corresponding 1 percent increase in the use of printing and writing grades of paper.

As the standard of living and literacy rates of the developing countries improve, they will consume additional paper products. Since few of these countries have production capabilities, they will rely heavily on imports from the developed countries, such as the United States.

Waste Stream

According to the 1990 Update by the EPA, paper and paperboard account for 40 percent by weight (34 percent by volume) of the municipal solid waste (MSW) in the United States. This is projected to increase to 48 percent (weight) by the year 2010.

Of the total MSW weight generated in the U.S., 32 percent was packaging and containers (30 percent volume). Although the nondurables are expected to increase by 2010, the packaging/container portion will actually decrease to 30 percent. Others, such as paper products in general and plastics, will increase considerably to offset the packaging reduction.

Eighteen percent of the MSW weight currently consists of paper and paperboard packaging. The slight increase to 20 percent by the year 2010 will be due primarily to the anticipated increase in the use of corrugated boxes.

Paper is clearly the dominant material (40 percent) of the waste stream because most paper-based products are single-use or have an extremely short life span. But one advantage of paper products is that possible disposal choices are less complex. Paper can: contribute to backyard or community composting; be shredded and incinerated- combustion with or without energy recovery; be separated and recycled into other products; or be sent to the landfill.

Another alternative is to reduce the amount of paper- related waste generated and thus the need for so many disposal choices. That would require the return to more reusable items (both commercially and individually) and a revision of consumer habits.

How many of the paper products in your world are you willing to give up?


All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181



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