The Impact of Waste Paper Recycling on the Carbon Emissions from China’s Paper Industry


As China’s demand for paper products increases, China’s paper industry faces enormous pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By using material flow analysis in combination with input–output analysis, this study measured the waste paper recovery rate in a more accurate method and analyzed the impact of waste paper recycling on the carbon emissions from China’s paper industry. China’s waste paper recovery rate estimated in this study was close to 70% in 2017, much higher than that of 48% obtained with the traditional method. The regression results displayed a negative relationship between waste paper recovery rate and CO2 emissions per unit of paper consumption during 2000–2017 in China. The rolling regression results further indicated that the impact of waste paper recycling was becoming stronger on reducing CO2 emissions per unit of paper consumption in China. Since an inverted “U” shape relationship exists between waste paper recovery rate and its reduction effect on carbon emissions from the paper industry, the regression results suggested that China’s waste paper recovery rate has not reached the optimal level with regard to carbon emissions from China’s paper industry. Thus, although China’s waste paper recovery rate has reached a relatively high level, currently waste paper recycling is still an effective method to reduce carbon emissions from China’s paper industry.

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Data Availability

The data used in this study are drawn from a variety of sources, including official statistics and the literature. The production, import and export volumes of 5 categories of paper products, mechanical pulp, chemical pulp, semi-chemical pulp, recovered paper and non-wood pulp are openly available in FAOSTAT at The input–output coefficients of various types of pulps, the parameters of storage, recovery and incineration of the consumed paper products, the parameters of energy consumption in the pulping and papermaking process and the conversion parameters between energy consumption and CO2 emissions in the MFA model are derived from existing research (Table 1).

Code Availability

Computer code relevant to this study is submitted as supplementary material (Online Resource 1).


  1. 1.

    TPC is calculated as the sum of domestic production and import of the five categories of paper products with exportation subtracted.

  2. 2.

    Consumed paper products will partially remain in the consumption process due to long in-use lifespan (Cote et al. 2015). For example, paper products such as books, journals, and other printed products are usually stored for years before they enter the final disposal process and become recyclable.

  3. 3.

    In the pulp structure calculation, recycled pulp is calculated as the product of recovered paper consumption and the yield ratio for recycled pulping (0.81); chemical pulp is calculated as the sum of chemical pulp consumption, 50% of semi-chemical pulp consumption and non-wood pulp consumption; mechanical pulp is calculated as the sum of mechanical pulp consumption and 50% of semi-chemical pulp consumption.


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This research was funded by Ministry of Education Humanities and Social Sciences Fund Project, grant number 19JC790020.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization and methodology: GD and DS; Data curation: CL, LY, and DS; Writing—original draft preparation: DS; Writing—review and editing: DS, CL, and LY; Funding acquisition and supervision: GD.

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Correspondence to Gang Diao.

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Shang, D., Diao, G., Liu, C. et al. The Impact of Waste Paper Recycling on the Carbon Emissions from China’s Paper Industry. Environmental Management 67, 811–821 (2021).

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  • Waste paper recovery rate
  • Carbon emissions
  • Material flow analysis
  • Input–output analysis
  • Rolling regression
  • Monte Carlo simulation