Fiber exports drop 17%, plastic shipments hit record low

Fiber bales stacked for recycling.
The U.S. exported 14.3 million short tons of recovered fiber in 2023, down 17% from 2022. | Nickpeps/Shutterstock

U.S. recovered paper exports in 2023 reached a 19-year low, driven by major multi-year declines in shipments into key overseas markets. Recovered plastic exports dropped slightly year over year, bringing a record low for another consecutive year.

The U.S. Census Bureau, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, recently released December 2023 export figures, allowing for a full-year analysis.

India is the largest buyer of U.S. recovered paper

The U.S. exported 14.3 million short tons of recovered fiber in 2023, down 17% from 17.1 million tons in 2022. That’s the lowest single-year amount shipped out of the country since 2004, and it’s the third consecutive year of declining export volume.

The largest export markets were India (importing 2.7 million short tons), Thailand (2.5 million), Mexico (1.9 million), Vietnam (1.6 million) and Malaysia (1.5 million).

The decrease was driven by a drop in material flowing to India. Although still the largest importer of U.S. fiber, the country brought in 31% less recovered paper in 2023 than the prior year. Other significant decreases occurred in exports to Mexico (down 23%) and Vietnam (down 19%).

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