stack of papers.
Paper waste facts

Paper Waste Facts and Statistics

Paper is a popular material used in our daily domestic and working lives even as we move to a more digital world. We still produce and use more than 414 million tonnes of paper every year. This includes everything from printing and writing paper to envelopes, toilet paper, and paperboard.

There are many benefits of paper as it’s from a renewable resource, is sustainable, and can be recycled several times. Almost all paper comes from trees, so planting new ones helps contribute to a circular economy. However, responsible recycling and disposal of paper waste is essential for this to happen.

Unfortunately, not all waste paper is recycled and discarded properly. Find out more about how much paper we use and throw away with these paper waste facts and statistics.

Examples of paper waste

Any items you no longer need made from paper are examples of paper waste. This could be a takeaway menu you’re throwing out at home, old client documents that need shredding at work, or scrap paper your pupils have been drawing on at school. Another example of waste paper is mill broke – trimmings and offcuts of paper from the manufacturing process.

Some more common examples of waste paper are:

What causes paper waste?

Businesses are a big cause of paper waste. Around 50% of all waste that businesses produce is paper. This is due to factors such as printing errors, disposing of company documents, and throwing away packaging from deliveries. Some of it is unavoidable but other causes like errors can be reduced with effective action.

Households throw away lots of waste paper as well. This includes junk mail, bills and letters, packaging, writing, and drawing paper. Manufacturing paper products also creates some level of waste due to offcuts and trimmings. However, this is normally recycled and reused at the mill to create new paper-based items.

How to reduce paper waste

Paper waste statistics

There are loads of stats and facts about paper waste and recycling out there. To help you see the wood for the trees we’ve compiled some of the most relevant ones here and filed them under different sections. Explore these general paper waste statistics:

  • The world produces more than 414 million metric tonnes of paper every year
  • 42% of global wood harvest is used to create paper
  • About 4 billion trees are cut down for the annual global paper supply
  • 93% of paper comes from trees
  • 24 trees are used to make one tonne of paper
  • Five litres of water are required to make one sheet of A4 paper
  • Around 26% of waste in landfill worldwide is paper – despite most paper waste being recyclable
  • About 50% of business waste is paper products
  • Producing recycled paper uses 30% less energy than making new paper
  • Recycling one tonne of paper can save 17 trees
  • It also saves between 3000 to 4000 kWh of electricityand around 30,000 litres of water – enough to sustain an average three-bedroomed house for a year
  • Most paper is recyclable between five and seven times
brown paper texture.

UK paper waste statistics

Paper is a popular product in the UK and the country has a good recycling for it compared to other materials. Understand how much we use and dispose of in businesses and homes across the country with these paper waste facts and statistics for the UK:

  • 10 million tons of paper are used and disposed of in the UK annually
  • Around 20% of all UK waste is paper
  • The number of trees needed to create all the paper we use in the UK would cover an area of 21,000 square km – almost the size of Wales
  • Almost 4 million tonnes of packaging waste in the UK are made from paper and cardboard
  • 8 million tonnes of paper packaging waste are recycled in the UK
  • According to government statistics, the UK has a recycling rate of 70.6% for paper and cardboard collected from households
  • It’s estimated that around 5 million tonnes of paper end up in UK landfill sites every year

Which countries recycle 
the most paper?

Working out which country recycles the most paper isn’t straightforward as the materials can overlap with other waste types. For example, packaging waste recycling figures include plenty of paper products. There are also differences between the amount of paper collected and recycled from households and businesses.

Paper is recycled an average of 3.8 times in Europe, which is higher than the global average of 2.4 times. The continent leads the way for paper recycling rates, but the USA isn’t far behind as it recycles 68% of waste paper. The countries with the best paper recycling rates are:

  • Germany – 74%
  • Sweden – 71%
  • Norway – 70%
  • UK – 70%
  • Japan – 68%

Office paper waste facts

There’s been a noticeable decline in printing within offices as we transition to a more digital world, which means less paper is wasted. However, offices are still a big source of waste paper due to printing, photocopying, storing documents, packaging materials, and general daily work. Find out more with these office paper waste facts and stats:

  • Around 70% of the total waste created by offices is paper
  • An average office uses 50 sheets of paper a day through unnecessary printing
  • 30% of printed papers in offices are never picked up
  • About 75% of sheets used in offices end up in the paper recycling bin
  • Office workers get through around 10,000 sheets of A4 paper every year
  • One sheet of A4 paper requiresfive litres of water to produce, which means about 50,000 litres are used by office workers annually just for paper
  • Offices in the USA get through around 12 trillion sheets of paper annually
Office waste management
man writing on paper document.

School paper waste statistics

Schools across the world are a big source of waste paper. Think of all the exercise books, worksheets, letters, posters, and other resources used in classrooms. At the end of the term or year, most of these are thrown away. Educational establishments still get through mountains of paper even as schools become more tech-focused.

Swot up on these school paper waste statistics to see how much recycling pupils and teachers could do:

  • At least a quarter of every school bin is filled with paper that can easily be recycled
  • The average primary school student produces about 45kg of waste paper
  • Every secondary school student creates around 22kg of paper waste
  • Schools in the USA use up to 32 billion sheets of paper a year
  • Around one million sheets of paper are used per school, per year in the UK
  • About £60,000 is spent on photocopying by schools
  • One study found 80% of staff working in education admit the sector has the most trouble reducing its paper use

Toilet paper waste facts

Traditional toilet paper was only invented in the late 19th century in Albany, New York by Seth Wheeler. Since then it’s become common in bathrooms across the world. Today it’s estimated the average person flushes away the equivalent of 384 trees’ worth of toilet paper in their lifetime.

Explore some more toilet paper waste facts:

  • 42 million tons of toilet paper are used globally each year
  • Across the world, we get through around 184 billion rolls of toilet paper annually
  • All the toilet paper in the world laid out is roughly 22 billion kilometres long – 50,000 times the Earth’s circumference
  • Around 10% of paper discarded daily is toilet paper
  • It takes nearly 700g of wood and3 kilowatt/hours (KWh) of electricity to make just one toilet roll
  • Producing all the toilet paper the world uses requires 712 million trees, 1,165 million tonnes of water, and 78 million tonnes of oil
  • On average everyone gets through 100 rolls of toilet paper per year – more than 20,000 sheets annually
  • Americans use the most toilet paper in the world and wipe their way through 34 million rolls a day
toilet rolls piled up in a cupboard.

Paper waste statistics at home

Households across the UK generate lots of waste paper every day. Most homes can simply place clean and dry paper in their domestic recycling bins. This includes everything from envelopes and leaflets to packaging materials and scrap paper. Discover some fascinating domestic waste paper statistics:

  • The average family in the UK throws out the equivalent of six trees worth of paper every year
  • The average person gets through 38kg of newspapers each year
  • All newspapers produced in the UK are made from 100% recycled paper
  • 4 million tonnes of junk mail go to landfill annually
  • The UK’s third-highest recycling rate is for paper – after metal and glass respectively

How should I get rid 
of my waste paper?

You can responsibly get rid of most waste paper at home by placing it in your household recycling bin if it’s clean and dry. Most local councils and authorities accept paper in domestic bins, bags, or containers. If you’ve got lots of scrap paper you can also take it to your nearby household waste recycling centre (HWRC).

Businesses must arrange commercial waste collection of any paper. This involves separating and storing paper away from any other waste materials and booking removal by licensed waste carriers. They’ll transport it to a recycling facility for sorting, processing, and recycling.

At Business Waste we can provide free paper bins for your organisation anywhere in the UK – you just pay for collection. You’ll receive a free duty of care certificate confirming the safe, legal, and responsible disposal of the paper. Call 0800 211 8390 or contact us online today for a free no-obligation quote for commercial paper waste collection.

Learn about paper recycling
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