Jump to main content.

Paper Grades and Collection

Paper mills use “recipes” specifying the type of fiber and chemical requirements needed for the recycled-content paper or paperboard being produced. Mills seek to purchase bales of recovered paper that have the desired compositional quality and that meet specifications resulting in high quality recycled-content products. The different types of paper generally collected for recycling are categorized into different “paper grades.” The grade of a particular bale of recovered paper depends on the type of paper that is actually in the bale, which is a direct result of the type of collection and processing used to recover the paper.

Paper Grades

There are five basic paper grade categories:

Old Corrugated Containers (OCC), also known as corrugated cardboard: Mills use old corrugated containers to make new recycled-content shipping boxes, as well as recycled paperboard for product packaging (cereal boxes, shoe boxes, etc.).

Mixed paper: Mixed paper is a broad category that often includes items such as discarded mail, telephone books, paperboard, magazines, and catalogs. Mills use mixed paper to produce paperboard and tissue, as a secondary fiber in the production of new paper, or as a raw material in non-paper product such as gypsum wallboard, chipboard, roofing felt, cellulose insulation, and molded pulp products such as egg cartons.

Old Newspapers(ONP): Mills primarily use old newspapers to make new recycled-content newsprint and in recycled paperboard and tissue, among other paper grades.

High Grade Deinked Paper: This grade is made of high grade paper such as letterhead, copier paper, envelopes, and printer and convertor scrap that has gone through the printing process. It must first be deinked before it can be reprocessed into high grade paper products such as printing and writing papers or tissue.

Pulp substitutes: A high grade paper, pulp substitutes are often shavings and clippings from converting operations at paper mills and print shops. Mills can use pulp substitutes in place of virgin materials to make back into high grade paper products.

Note: Although shredded paper is not a separate grade of paper, shredded paper can be recycled (usually as a mixed grade) as long as it is shredded to an appropriate size and does not contain an unacceptable level of contaminants, such as plastics. Collection program coordinators who want to recycle shredded paper should check with their contract hauler to determine appropriate shred size and level of contamination acceptable for recycling.

Statistics from the American Forest & Paper Association on the recovery of paper and paperboard, including information specific to individual grades, is available at Paper Recycles.org Exit EPA.

The Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries Exit EPA publishes guidelines for recyclables, including recovered paper. The Scrap Specifications Circular Exit EPAdefines each type of recovered paper and serves as a general guideline for sorting, packing, buying, and selling recovered paper. The standards also set limits for contaminants and “outthrows” (paper that does not fit the definition for a specified paper stock grade).

Top of Page

Collection and Processing

Two basic collection methods for paper recovery are common:

Paper recyclers are developing new technologies designed to handle, identify, and separate paper grades for recycling. One enhancement technology allows segregation of paper fibers during the recycling process according to fiber length, coarseness, and stiffness through a sequential centrifuging and screening process.

Top of Page

Availability of Paper Recycling Programs

Since 1994, the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) Exit EPA has performed a series of national surveys to measure the extent and track the growth of access to community-level paper and paperboard recycling. In 2005, the American Forest & Paper Association conducted a Community Survey to determine access of US residents to either drop-off or curbside recycling programs. Whether measured by the percentage of population (86 percent) or by the percentage of communities (69 percent), a significant portion of the United States is served by paper/paperboard curbside and drop-off recycling programs. The following table summarizes the population and number of communities with access to paper and paperboard recycling in total, in curbside programs and in drop-off programs.

2005 Paper/Paperboard Recycling Program Summary


Results by Population with Access

Results by Community

Population (Millions)

Percent of US Total

Number of Communities

Percent of US Total

Curbside Recycling Programs





Drop-off Recycling Programs





Total Recycling Programs





Top of Page

Local Navigation

Jump to main content.