moving boxes

The Pandemic’s Impact on the Recycled Paper Industry

Less Office Paper, More Takeout Containers

New habits formed during the pandemic have caused changes for paper and cardboard mills. Because so many people are working from home, these companies are dealing with a shortage of recycled office paper. But because consumers are ordering more products online and more take-out food, mills have access to more discarded boxes, which they are making into toilet paper, coffee cups, paper towels, and other products.

The collection volume from US residential recycling programs has risen at least 7% this year compared to last year. This is partially a result of more ecommerce, which requires cardboard delivery boxes. Despite the surge in scrap cardboard supply, the price of recycled cardboard has also climbed this year as more companies invest in equipment to process the resource. Mixed paper for recycling cost next to nothing at the beginning of the year and it now costs about $30 per ton.

An Abrupt Change

Trends in the mixed paper market have changed abruptly. Two years ago the price of scrap paper and cardboard plummeted after China changed its contaminants limits. The country used to process two thirds of mixed paper collected in the US. However, the new restrictions meant that much of the US’ recycled products could no longer be sold to China.

Many US waste management companies were losing money on their recycling operations because they were unable to sell materials to China. Now, however, there is more scrap cardboard available, and US plants are investing in better screening technologies to be able to process it.

Technological Improvements

With new technology, companies are able to process a wider variety of materials. For example, WestRock, an Atlanta-based company, is encouraging consumers to recycle pizza boxes. There are over 3 billion pizza boxes produced in the US each year. In the past, these boxes were difficult to recycle, but new systems can turn these boxes into pulp even if there is food residue on the cardboard.

Similarly, Georgia-Pacific, which makes Dixie cups, Brawny paper towels, and other products, recently invested $45 million in sophisticated pulp-making plants. These plants are able to process a variety of recycled materials. For example, they can filter out the thin plastic on the inside of paper coffee cups in order to turn the cups into pulp, and then into new products. Lifestyle changes resulting from the pandemic have had unique ripple effects across innumerable sectors of the economy, including the recycled paper industry.

Please understand that this information provided is general in nature and shouldn’t be construed as a recommendation or solicitation of any products offered by SoFi’s affiliates and subsidiaries. In addition, this information is by no means meant to provide investment or financial advice, nor is it intended to serve as the basis for any investment decision or recommendation to buy or sell any asset. Keep in mind that investing involves risk, and past performance of an asset never guarantees future results or returns. It’s important for investors to consider their specific financial needs, goals, and risk profile before making an investment decision.
The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. These links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement. No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this content.
Communication of SoFi Wealth LLC an SEC Registered Investment Advisor
SoFi isn’t recommending and is not affiliated with the brands or companies displayed. Brands displayed neither endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks and service marks referenced are property of their respective owners.

All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

ABOUT SoFi SoFi helps people achieve financial independence to realize their ambitions. Our products for borrowing, saving, spending, investing, and protecting give our more than one million members fast access to tools to get their money right. SoFi membership comes with the key essentials for getting ahead, including career advisors and connection to a thriving community of like-minded, ambitious people. For more information, visit Want an easy and convenient way to manage your financial life? Get the SoFi app. For iOS and Android.

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender