How to Recycle Paper

In the U.S., we recycle a lot of paper; it accounts for half of the recyclables collected per year, and our paper recycling rate is 63 percent. However, paper still makes up 33 percent of our annual garbage output, so we have a long way to go.

Paper Recycling Tips

  1. Avoid getting paper wet, as this significantly reduces the recycling market. If your curbside program accepts all materials in the same bin/cart, empty your containers before tossing them in so they don’t drain on your paper. If there’s rain in the forecast, wait until the morning of collection to put your bin at the curb.
  2. If possible, use a black marker to remove sensitive information instead of shredding paper. Ink is easily removed in the recycling process, but shredding paper reduces the fiber lengths, making it more difficult to recycle into new paper.
  3. Verify what types of paper are accepted in your area, as some communities only accept certain grades. Definitely check to see if your community accepts paper lined with plastic, such as frozen food boxes and cartons.
  4. In the case of boxes (cardboard and paperboard), break them down to save room in your recycling bin.

Find a drop-off location for paper near you using our Recycling Locator.

Find Recycling Guides for Other Materials

Frequent Paper Recycling Questions

Can I recycle paper in my curbside recycling program?

Most curbside programs accept at least some grades of paper at the curb. A general rule is if you can tear the paper, it’s probably accepted in your curbside program. We’ve written recycling guides for numerous paper products, so your best bet is to identify the types of paper you’re looking to recycle.

What are the different grades of paper?

There are five general categories when it comes to paper recycling. Old corrugated containers (OCC) includes the cardboard boxes used for shipping. Old newspapers (ONP) is the thin paper used for newsprint and flyers in the mail. High-grade deinked paper is the paper you have in your printer. Mixed paper is the catch-all for most other paper, including phone books, mail, cartons, magazines and shredded paper. The fifth grade, pulp substitutes, you are unlikely to have lying around the house. Each paper grade has a different commodity value: OCC is usually the highest, with mixed paper the lowest.

What happens when paper is recycled?

The first step to recycle paper is to separate it by grade. It is then baled and shipped to a mill, where the paper is cleaned to remove ink, adhesives and non-paper products (like plastic windows in envelopes or staples). The resulting pulp is dried and rolled, then sent off to make new paper products.

Are there any states that require paper recycling?

Several states have passed laws requiring paper products be recycled, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as Washington, D.C.

What should I do with wet or food-soiled paper?

Throw it in the trash or use it as kindling for fires in the winter. There is no recycling market for wet paper. If only parts of the paper are soiled, such as a pizza box, you can remove the soiled portion and recycle the rest.

Can I recycle shredded paper?

It really depends on where you live. Check out the shredded paper recycling guide to learn more.

Additional Reading