Driving the circular economy with our customers and industry

Sustainability has always been at the heart of our business. Now more than ever, we’re working in partnership with our customers and a cross-section of industry stakeholders to accelerate the transition to the circular economy and ‘Redefine Packaging for a Changing World’.

Blog author test_2_Rogier.jpgAbout Rogier Gerritsen: Rogier is the MD of our Recycling division and is responsible for our recycling operations across Europe. During his career at DS Smith, Rogier has also held senior roles in both our Packaging and Paper divisions, gaining valuable insight and experience across sustainable paper and packaging production.

Sustainability – no longer a nice to have for organisations

From high profile NGO organisations such as Greenpeace and WWF to powerful individuals like Greta Thumberg and David Attenborough, the awareness of the environmental challenges facing our world have been raised. Spurred on by their campaigns, consumers are demanding organisations to demonstrate transparency and better environmental and social stewardship.

As more and more packaging enters our homes through the increase of e-commerce shopping, consumers are asking for as little of packaging as possible, and packaging which is easily recyclable. Our latest research, conducted in partnership with Ipsos MORI, reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic has made consumers feel even more strongly about sustainability and the environment. 71% of consumers in our survey told us climate change was as serious as COVID-19. 64% said they would change where they shopped if it meant less packaging.

Policies and legislation are improving recycling rates

In response to consumer demand, the pollution of our oceans and growing evidence of climate change, regulators are stepping up their efforts to provide the legislative framework to make packaging design, production, use and recycling as sustainable as possible. Everyone is aware of the War on Plastic, but the focus is not limited to plastic as we transition away from traditional linear supply chains to a more circular economy.

Legislation has always been a key driver in pushing recycling rates upwards. Our 2019 Tipping Point report noted that the top-performing EU recycling nations all had one thing in common, progressive policies and waste prevention practices, some that were set in the 1990s. They all have widespread separate collection systems for households, they operate deposit return schemes on packaging and ban certain materials being sent to landfill or incineration.

Recycling in the European Union (EU) has improved steadily over the past decade. The recycling rate of fibre-based packaging has risen to 84% compared to recycling rates of 40% for plastic packaging, 76% for glass packaging and 81% for metal packaging.1 However, across Europe 24% of waste is still going to landfill, with big variations between the member states. Every percentage of improvement could have a significant, positive impact on the environment, climate, health and the economy.2


The EU has already introduced legislation including a ban on single-use plastics by 2021 (EU Parliament), a ban on landfilling recyclable material by 2025 (EU Waste Policy Review), and a target of an 85% recycling rate from paper and board packaging by 2030 (The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD).

To further strengthen provisions on waste prevention, additional legislation, such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) will be introduced. First mentioned in 2018 as part of the EU’s Circular Economy Package, this is expected to be a major driver in making companies act more sustainably by pushing recycling rates, circular design principles and investment in resource management infrastructure across Europe. However, at this stage it’s still too early to know exactly what the new EPR legislation will say, and how it will be implemented by the EU Member States. What we do know is that investment of EPR fees in better segregated collections and recycling infrastructure is going to be key in order to achieve higher recycling rates.

Only collaboration can bring about real change

We believe everyone (consumers, NGOs, governments and businesses) needs to work together if we want to genuinely minimise our impact on the natural world and create a positive impact on people and the planet.

We’re involved in several cross-industry alliances including The 4Evergreen Alliance, an industry group aimed at increasing awareness of the benefits of fibre-based packaging materials in a circular and sustainable economy. 4evergreen is proud to bring together members and businesses from across the entire packaging value chain; from paper and board producers to packaging converters, food and drink brand-owners and retailers, technology and material suppliers, waste sorters & collectors, research organizations and technical universities.

As part of our work with cross-industry alliances such as the 4Evergreen, we have ambitions to increase the 84% fibre-based packaging recycling rate in Europe to 90% by the end of the decade. This can only be achieved through collaboration through the packaging and recycling supply cycle -  by working together to deliver innovation from product design through to collection and recycling systems infrastructures.

Tackling the challenges of now and future generations

Thanks to our circular “box to box in 14 days” business model, we’re involved in every touchpoint of our customer’s supply cycle and can guide them on adopting long-term sustainable practices and solutions.

Cardboard box supply chain.jpg

With many global brands now committed to making their packaging 100% recyclable by 2025, we have brought forward our own pledge to 2023 and are focusing on delivering sustainability that can add value right now. By implementing circular design principles we’re creating easier to recycle packaging solutions, such as replacing single-use plastic packaging with more sustainable fibre alternatives without compromising on quality. In fact, in our new Now and Next Sustainability Strategy we have committed to taking 1 billion pieces of problem plastics off supermarket shelves by 2025.

We’re collaborating with our customers to ensure the decisions made at every stage of a product’s life cycle, from manufacture to recycling, can have a positive impact on sustainability, cost, and a broad range of other supply chain efficiencies. Together we can meet growing sustainability expectations, tougher targets and accelerate the transition to the circular economy.

12018 Eurostat recycling rates  2Eursotat  3HM Revenue & Customs