The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) released a new tool — “The Design Guidance for Recyclability” — a data-driven resource to aid packaging designers and brands in the design and manufacture of packaging to meet recyclability goals.

The guide provides data on how certain non-fiber elements, such as coatings and additives, impact the recyclability of paper-based packaging.

“Paper recycling is a circular economy success story. Increasingly, consumers are seeking more sustainable packaging, and as a result, brands are challenged to add more recyclable packaging to their portfolio. Combining our industry’s track record on paper recycling — meeting or exceeding a 63% recycling rate since 2009 — along with AF&PA’s industry data and statistics, this guide will be a true asset to those seeking to innovate around sustainable packaging. I am confident that a deeper understanding as to the complexities brands and packaging designers face in balancing design and performance with recyclability will further advance paper recycling innovation,” says Heidi Brock, AF&PA president and CEO. The findings in the report are the result of an AF&PA member survey of company mills in a range of sectors in the U.S. and Canada. The survey had a 75% response rate with data for 86 mills reported.

The study included corrugated packaging, bleached and unbleached paperboard cartons, carrier stock cartons, Kraft paper bags, multiwall shipping sacks and molded fiber containers. The study examined numerous non-fiber elements including inks and dyes, adhesives, tapes and labels, coatings and barriers, metals and plastics, foils, wet strength and non-tree fibers.

Key findings include:

  • Non-fiber elements may present a recycling “challenge” when they slow down the mill’s pulping process, plug screening systems or leave residue on finished paper or paperboard. However, innovations in packaging design and materials, as well as improvements in recycling technology, have made these treatments easier to recycle.
  • Being a “challenge” does not mean “not recyclable.” Each non-fiber element applied to each kind of packaging was rated by some mills as not a “challenge”.

“This technical guidance is not meant to be mandatory or a standard for the packaging industry. Rather, it is an information tool to help individuals and organizations that specify and design packaging to better meet a customer’s recycling needs,” says Brian Hawkinson, AF&PA’s executive director of recovered fiber.

In addition to data about the impact non-fiber elements have on packaging recyclability, the report includes resources about the recycling process, standards and testing facilities and insights from mills on specific non-fiber elements.

The Design Guidance for Recyclability is available for free download at