Ahead of COP26, Miles Roberts, Group CEO of DS Smith shares his thoughts on Britain’s ‘recycling crisis’ and the ‘damage’ it’s doing to both the environment and the economy.
I recently commented in the UK media regarding Britain’s recycling crisis and the damage it is doing to our economy and the environment. In a year when the world will be looking to the UK to lead on the global climate agenda as the host of COP26, we aren’t doing enough to keep up with leading recycling nations like Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands.
A perfect storm of the pandemic and a boom in online home shopping have put incredible pressure on the UK’s creaking recycling infrastructure which is struggling to cope with the sheer amount of packaging being thrown away.
One more bin, to allow for separate collections of paper and cardboard, can go a long way to increasing our recycling rates and stop the UK economy losing up to £1 billion every year in lost recycling value.
Parcel volumes have reached an all-time high with almost three billion sent and received in 2020 and yet despite many people willing to recycle and live ever more sustainable lives, recycling rates for paper and cardboard have dropped by almost 15% since 2017.
Much of this alarming drop can be put down to the fragmented way in which we go about recycling in the UK, with up to 300 different council recycling schemes in England alone and a huge variety of kerbside recycling systems quite rightly leaving households confused and struggling to make sense of how they can make a real difference.
Indeed, a recent study conducted by DS Smith found that almost half of all UK households admitted to running out of space in their recycling bins at times – clearly something needs to change.
As a priority, we need a simpler, standardised system of recycling with separate household waste collections for paper and card. One more bin, to allow for separate collections of paper and cardboard, can go a long way to increasing our recycling rates and stop the UK economy losing up to £1 billion every year in lost recycling value.
It would also help us in our fight to prevent irreversible damage to the environment due to poor waste management systems.
The demand for this move is certainly there with 47% of people we surveyed saying that their recycling capacity needed to be bigger. The Government clearly recognises that this is a growing problem that they must get a handle on and I am pleased to see that they have been canvassing industry views on the best way forward.
Many of Europe’s leading recycling nations have widespread separate collection systems at the household level. They also operate deposit return schemes on packaging and ban certain materials being dumped in landfill or incinerated.
We look forward to seeing the development of the Environment Bill and the outcome of the consultations on, amongst other key issues, the consistency in the way we collect recycling from our homes. But it needs to be the right kind of consistency, with separate collections of paper and cardboard at its very heart.
Brexit opens up the opportunity for the UK to put in place minimum local and national statutory recycling targets and much can be learnt here from our European counterparts who have progressive policies and waste prevention practices, some that were set in the 1990s. Many of Europe’s leading recycling nations have widespread separate collection systems at the household level. They also operate deposit return schemes on packaging and ban certain materials being dumped in landfill or incinerated.
DS Smith, as the global leader in packaging and Europe’s largest recycler of paper and cardboard, is doing its part in protecting the environment and reducing waste and pollution. We rely on a circular business and have a unique 14-day box to box model, meaning we take the boxes we make, then collect, recycle, and convert them into new boxes all within 14 days – minimising the impact on the planet. We also globally manufacture billions of boxes from recycled fibre every year and find solutions for our customers that replace problem plastics and remove carbon from supply chains.
However, if we are to avoid overflowing bins, meet our net zero climate targets and truly build back better, it will take a combined effort from government, business, and civil society to get to grips with our recycling infrastructure and create a system that can rise to the challenge of a Britain that fully embraces the circular economy to create a more sustainable society for now and future generations to come.