AF&PA details U.S. paper production and capacity trends

AF&PA details U.S. paper production and capacity trends

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) released the 64th Paper Industry Annual Capacity and Fiber Consumption Survey. The report provides detailed data on U.S. paper industry capacity and production compiled by the AF&PA statistics team.

U.S. paper and paperboard capacity declined by 1.6% in 2023, to 79.7 million tons. That compares to an average decline of 0.9% per year since 2014. U.S. paper and paperboard production declined 7.2% last year, with declines in all categories except tissue.

U.S. Paper-Based Packaging Capacity

Four machines totaling 2.1 million tons of containerboard and packaging paper capacity started up during 2023, all using 100 percent recycled fiber. However, more than 1.7 million tons of capacity, mostly using wood fiber, was permanently removed in 2023 as the industry faced demand weakness from customer destocking and economic headwinds.

Containerboard capacity declined 0.7% in 2023. Despite consecutive declines in 2022 and 2023, containerboard capacity is at near-record levels due to 11 consecutive years of growth averaging 1.6% from 2011 to 2021.Containerboard share of total paper and paperboard capacity has exceeded 50% since 2021.

Packaging paper capacity increased 4.8%. All of the growth came in unbleached packaging papers. Meanwhile, boxboard capacity declined 2.0% percent in 2023. There have been 2 announcements of plans to add boxboard capacity in 2025 to meet demand for paper-based consumer packaging.

U.S. Printing-Writing and Tissue Capacity

Printing-writing capacity dropped 5.0% in 2023, lower than the 3-year and 10-year trend of 7.1% and 6.9% declines, respectively. This brings printing-writing capacity below 10 million tons for the first time in more than 50 years. Printing-writing capacity accounted for just 12% of total paper and paperboard capacity in 2023, down from 28% in 2000 when electronic communication became widespread.

Tissue capacity declined 0.9% in 2023. In spite of two consecutive year-over-year declines, tissue capacity has now increased at an average annual rate of 0.4% from 2014 to 2023.

What is Capacity?

Capacity is the tonnage of paper, paperboard or pulp that could be produced with full use of equipment and adequate supplies of raw materials and labor, and assuming full demand. AF&PA’s Capacity Survey details U.S. industry capacity data for 2023 and 2024 for all major grades of paper, paperboard and pulp, as well as fiber consumption. It is based on a comprehensive survey of U.S. pulp and paper mills. It includes production data for 2023.

AF&PA data represent about 89% of U.S. paper and paperboard industry capacity, with estimates completing the data set.

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