Recycling is a vital component of improving our environmental impact. So one might assume that using paper, packaging, and pulp made from recycled fiber would be environmentally superior to using those made from new fiber.

But the truth is, both can be sustainable options, and both contribute to a cycle that makes paper one of the most sustainable products in the world.

Equation Illustration

One important part of the equation is that paper cannot be recycled indefinitely. An ordinary sheet of paper can only be recycled up to seven times.1 Each time a paper product is recycled, the fiber becomes shorter and more brittle. Eventually, recycled fiber will need to be supplemented with new fiber to maintain quality and usability.

Combine that with the fact that 10 tons of old paper may yield only 8 tons of usable pulp and you can see that we cannot depend only on recovered fiber. If we only used recovered fiber, the industry would run out of fiber within 6 to 18 months.2

Recycled paper is not fit for all needs.
It is difficult (and sometimes impossible) to create the same smooth, flawless quality and brightness that customers require with 100 percent recycled paper. Therefore, many high-end printing papers and other specialized paper require new fiber.

For those reasons, making paper sustainable requires both responsibly grown and managed new fiber as well as recycled fiber.

The key is to ensure that all of the fiber that goes into your products is from responsible sources. At International Paper, all new fiber comes from responsibly managed forests that are regenerated after harvest to ensure the long term future of the forest. An added benefit of growing trees to create new fiber is that it supports private forestland owners who manage working forests. This provides economic and environmental benefits such as sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere, which reduces the effects of climate change.

Advancing recovery goals

Since 2010, we have increased recovery of old corrugated containers (OCC) by 66%, which required expanding our internal recovered fiber capacity, working with suppliers and acquiring new sources of materials for recovery. As a leading producer of renewable, fiber-based products, we recognize our role in promoting the recycling of paper products and actively collaborate with organizations to address recovery solutions. Through our collaboration with The Recycling Partnership, International Paper has helped to save 230 million pounds of recyclables from the landfill, resulting in 251,000 metric tons of carbon emissions avoided.

Key Takeaway

Always ensure the fiber used to make your product is sustainably produced and sourced, whether it’s new or recovered. And please recycle.

Additional Resources

Downloads, fact sheets, reports and more.


Answers to frequently asked questions about forestry, paper, packaging and pulp
Does Using Paper Products Kill Trees?

How responsibly produced paper products actually keep forests forested

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Are Recycled Paper Products Always Better for the Planet?

Recycling is only part of the sustainability equation

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