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The Myth of 100% Recycled Content

100% Recycled Myth Title Card

Corrugated is the most recycled packaging material in the United States.* So you may be wondering, “If we’re so good at recovering and recycling old corrugated boxes, why aren’t all boxes made from 100% recycled fibers?” The answer is — 100% recycled is not sustainable. Here are three common myths about recycled content and why they aren’t true.

*Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2020

Myth of 100% Fiber Availability

Myth #1:

100% of corrugated fiber goes back into new corrugated?


This is false.

Not all of the recovered old corrugated containers, or OCC, go back into making new containerboard. In fact, only about 49% goes toward making new corrugated boxes, and the remaining 45% is either exported or used to make other paper-based products. This recovered OCC will therefore only provide about 50% of the industry’s raw material needs (that’s the 89% recovery rate times 55% rate going back into new containerboard). But if we only have about 50% of our fiber for the next “round” of paper (or “containerboard”), the rest must come from newly harvested fiber being added into the mix. Otherwise, we’re simply not going to have enough fiber to make the containerboard we need for boxes.

Myth of Infinite Recycling

Myth #2:

100% recycled fiber performs well time after time after time.


Absolutely not.

The fact is that each time you recycle and reuse a paper fiber, it becomes shorter. That directly translates into less performance. In other words, if all other things are equal, paper made of longer fibers is going to have better strength properties than paper made of short fibers. In fact, after a number of “recyclings,” paper fibers are simply too small to even make it through the papermaking process.

Myth of 100% Recycled

Myth #3:

100% recycled fiber in corrugated is desirable and sustainable?


No, it is not.

Mixing recycled and new fibers maintains product performance and ensures a reliable supply of raw materials. As a result, the “average box” in the U.S. contains 52% recycled content.*

*Source: Fibre Box Association, 2021