The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) released the 61stPaper Industry Capacity and Fiber Consumption Report, indicating overall U.S. paper and paperboard capacity declined 1.6 percent in 2020, compared to the average decline of 1.1 percent per year since 2011. Notably in 2020, containerboard capacity expanded, continuing a decade-long trend, and reaching a record high of 40.4 million tons. Tissue paper capacity has also been trending upward, increasing for the past five years, as well as eight of the last 10 years.
Meanwhile, U.S. mill consumption of recovered fiber reached the second-highest level in the past decade. The increase was driven by mill consumption of corrugated, the largest grade of recovered fiber, which reached a record high of 22.8 million tons in 2020. Boxboard was the only packaging grade to decline last year, however survey responses indicate a slight rebound in 2021.
Experiencing continued secular decline from displacement by electronic communication, capacity for newsprint and printing-writing papers decreased in 2020, with capacity for both grades declining in the past decade. Some machines that historically produced printing-writing papers have been and are being repurposed to produce containerboard and packaging paper.
Survey responses indicate total paper and paperboard capacity will remain essentially flat, decreasing less than one-half of one percent in 2021. The survey reports U.S. industry capacity data for 2020 and 2021 for all major grades of paper, paperboard and pulp, as well as fiber consumption, based on a comprehensive survey of all U.S. pulp and paper mills. Survey data includes responses from companies representing more than 86 percent of U.S. paper and paperboard industry capacity, with estimates completing the data set.