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Two in five pieces of paper and cardboard expected to end up in landfill or incineration by 2030

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New research from DS Smith reveals two in five pieces (44%) of paper and cardboard packaging are set to end up in landfill or incineration by 2030 if declining recycling rates aren’t reversed.

This loss of sustainable and recyclable packaging equates to 17.3 million tonnes worth £2.8 billion. UK recycling rates have been in decline for the past five years and have coincided with the continued growth of e-commerce, with DS Smith estimating that consumer demand will generate 6.5 million tonnes of paper and cardboard packaging waste every year by the end of this decade.

The report from DS Smith, ‘Wasted Paper: A Path To Better Recycling’, also reveals that recycling is at risk of ‘falling out of fashion’ with younger people. Only seven in ten (71%) 18 to 24 year olds recycle almost all of their paper and card, compared to more than nine in ten (92%) over 65s. Across all ages, there is limited trust in the recycling process, as less than two thirds (66%) of Brits are confident the paper and card they put in their bin is processed correctly by the authorities.

Despite the UK being the third largest producer of paper and card waste in Europe, it ranks 25th of 30 European nations for recycling. In 2020, just 74% of paper and card was recycled, compared to a European average of 82%, and DS Smith predicts this could drop to 56% by 2030.

The UK is on course to miss its long term recycling target by up to 13 years, according to previous modelling by the company, having already missed the 2020 recycling rate target of 50% set by DEFRA, and being on course to miss the 2025 (55%) and 2030 (65%) targets.

To reverse the decline of recycling rates, this new report underlines the need for separate collections of paper and card, a uniform recycling system across the country, as well as better labelling and consumer education.

However, legislation recently announced by the UK government promotes comingled collection of dry recyclables, including paper and card, as the standard approach in England. Evidence shows that this approach results in increased contamination compared to a source segregated model, meaning that Simpler Recycling represents a backwards step for recycling in England.

John Melia, strategy development and innovation director, recycling at DS Smith, commented: ‘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. Poor recycling in the UK rates not only compromise the environment, they stand in the way of realising a big economic opportunity – we can all agree that leaving £2.8 billion on the table is madness when there is 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.

John continued, ‘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.’


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