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UK paper recycling rate amongst worst in Europe

Research from DS Smith shows that tonnes of paper and cardboard are going to landfill

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Research was carried out through 50 experts and a survey involving 2,000 adults across the UK

According to new research the UK is lagging behind the rest of Europe when it comes to paper and packaging recycling.

New statistics show that two in five paper and cardboard packages (44%) are set to end up in landfill or incineration by 2030.

Research comes from FTSE100 sustainable packaging company DS Smith which has highlighted the UK’s dwindling performance compared to other countries and the fact that recycling is at risk of falling out of fashion with young people.

Legislation announced recently by the UK Government promotes co-mingled collection of dry recyclables including paper and card, as the standard approach in England. Evidence shows that this approach can increase contamination and in fact means a step backwards for recycling in England.  

Though the UK is the third biggest producer of paper and card waste in Europe, it is currently ranked 25th out of 30 European nations for recycling. 

In 2020 only 74% of paper and card was recycled compared to the European average of 82%, DS Smith predicts that with the increase of e-commerce and consumer demand, the UK’s recycling rate could drop to as low as 56% by 2030, meaning around 6.5 million tonnes of paper waste each year.  

The report from DS Smith called Wasted Paper: A Path To Better Recycling, reveals that the loss of sustainable and recyclable packaging equates to 17.3 million tonnes which is worth £2.8bn.

John Melia, strategy development and innovation director, Recycling at DS Smith, comments: “To revitalise recycling, we should learn from the proven, effective approaches of other UK and European nations who are reaping the benefits of well-structured recycling systems.

DS Smith is a global provider of corrugated cardboard packaging and offers paper manufacturing and recycling services

“Poor recycling rates in the UK not only compromise the environment, but they also stand in the way of realising a big economic opportunity – we can all agree that leaving £2.8bn on the table is madness when there’s a thriving industry ready to receive the material and put it to good use, supporting thousands of jobs and creating value for the economy in a circular way.”

In order to reverse the decline of recycling rates DS Smith is hoping to encourage paper companies, printers, packaging producers, associations, and most importantly, consumers, to call for better labelling and education of recyclable products.

Research also showed that just 71% of 18 to 24-year-olds recycle all their paper and card compared to 92% of over 65s. Overall just 66% of British residents are confident that paper and card is being processed correctly by the authorities.

Melia concludes: “Given the scale of the environmental and economic opportunity, the Government’s proposals are a step in the wrong direction and will do nothing to improve already record-low recycling rates.”

Organisations such as Reconomy, Two Sides, and FESPA UK Association have helped the industry over the past few years to improve recycling rates and has provided information and resources for print businesses and their clients.  

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