Paper Waste Prevention and Recycling

Paper waste prevention is the practice of reducing or eliminating paper use so that the potential for paper to be used inefficiently or disposed is prevented in the first place. Printing paper on both sides of the sheet—rather than on one side—is a classic example of paper waste prevention, as it can reduce the need for paper by up to 50 percent.

Paper recovery is the practice of collecting paper to produce recycled paper or some other product, such as cellulose insulation. The most visible method is residential curbside recycling programs, which collects a variety of paper types generated by households. However, the majority of recovered paper originates from the business and industrial sectors.

National paper recovery rates in 2013 were 63.3 percent, up from 48.1 percent in 10 years (U.S. EPA, Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2003 and 2013 Fact Sheets). However, it is clear there is considerable room to increase paper recovery. Below are resources to help us achieve a higher rate of recovery.

Prevention is the most environmentally preferable means to reduce paper waste. Even if all paper was recycled, there would still be a need for paper to be made from virgin resources, as individual paper fibers can only be recycled a finite number of times (generally 5-10). Paper waste prevention reduces the environmental impacts associated with both paper manufacture (including the demands on our forest resources) and paper recycling.

CalRecycle Web Sites

Office Paper Reduction: This site contains information on office paper disposal and how businesses can increase their productivity while reducing the time and money spent on handling paper waste.

You Can Reduce Unwanted Mail—Tips for reducing your unwanted junk mail.

Packaging Materials Management: This site contains information about 75 Percent Initiative packaging-related activities, such as the Manufacturers’ Challenge and additional programs implemented by CalRecycle to encourage recovery of packaging materials, including paper

Recycling Containers for Home and Office: Manufacturers of indoor and outdoor recycling bins, compost and vermicompost bins, and a variety of related products.

Waste Management for State Agencies: This site assists state government waste reduction/recycling coordinators and procurement officers in their efforts to reduce, reuse, recycle, and buy recycled.

Other Web Sites

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Waste”. Information about how reducing, reusing, and recycling can help you, your community, and the environment by saving money, energy, and natural resources:

  • EPA’s WasteWise Program. A free, voluntary, EPA partnership program through which businesses, governments, and other organizations eliminate costly municipal solid waste, benefiting their bottom line and the environment.
  • How Do I Recycle? Common Recyclables. A comprehensive list of common recyclables, including paper.

Earth 911 “How to Recycle Paper”. Find answers to frequently asked questions about paper recycling.

American Forest & Paper Association’s “Paper Recycling”: AF&PA is the national trade association of the forest, paper, and wood products industry. Their website includes information about paper recycling.

CalRecycle Publications

Business Waste Reduction Publications: This page indexes all of CalRecycle’s business waste reduction publications. [Note: not all of the business waste reduction publications focus on waste prevention, nor on paper.]

For more information contact: Office of Public Affairs,