Paper Production Levels Off

Michael Renner | Jan 20, 2015


In wealthy countries, paper is so ubiquitous that it comes in seemingly endless numbers of grades, types, shapes, and colors and is used for both mundane and highly specialized purposes. Too often, paper products are discarded soon after their purchase, and only a portion is recovered for recycling.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 397.6 million tons of paper and paperboard were produced worldwide in 2013, the latest year for which global data are available.1 Production thus declined slightly for the second year in a row, from an all-time high of 400.6 million tons in 2011.2 Since the global economic crisis of 2008, paper production has leveled off, following a more than fivefold rise over the past half-century.3(See Figure 1.) 

Paper Figure 1

Most of the paper produced today is used for wrapping and packaging purposes, with its share rising from 39 percent of total output in 1961 to 54 percent in 2013.4 The share of printing and writing grades peaked at 30 percent by 2000 and has since declined to 26 percent.5 Newsprint once accounted for a quarter of all paper production, but now this is down to just 7 percent.6 Production of household and sanitary tissues has expanded from about 4 percent to almost 8 percent.7

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