DS Smith welcomes revised EU recycling targets

The European Parliament has announced challenging legislation to increase recycling rates across the continent. Here, Peter Clayson, General Manager for Business Development and External Affairs at DS Smith Recycling, examines the updated circular economy package, and outlines what it means for recycling in the UK.

The Package’s new revisions, which include new targets for recycling, packaging, and landfill reduction, are a welcome sign of ambition from the European Parliament in this update to a circular economy proposal first published in December 2015.

The revisions have increased the recycling targets for municipal waste to 65% by 2035, by which time municipalities must also have limited their landfill usage to 10%. The package scrutinises individual waste streams, calling for the recycling rates of plastic, packaging, and paper to be increased to 55%, 70%, and 85% respectively by 2030.

As one of Europe’s leading recyclers, DS Smith welcomes the package’s ambition. However, actions speak louder than words, and so we call on the UK government to be inspired by the European Parliament’s example, and to lead the way by legislating for higher targets of its own.

Recycling rates are struggling, because the UK’s recycling industry has already handled what might be called the ‘low-hanging fruit’. It is worth noting that while commercial recycling rates are strong, municipal figures are stagnating due to our lack of nationwide consistency.

While there are still areas of the UK which excel at recycling, namely Wales and Scotland, England still sees huge disparity between individual local authorities. This lack of uniformity in recycling collections confuses householders, many of whom do not know what can and can’t be recycled, which means that material collected for recycling could be too contaminated for recyclers to use in their manufacturing processes.  

DS Smith has been calling on the government to implement a consistent scheme of separate collections, in line with two of the collection systems identified in WRAP’s Framework for Greater Consistency. Separate collection of materials for recycling will maximise material quality while limiting the contamination of resources for recycling. Mandatory separate collections of food waste, with cardboard and paper segregated from other recyclables, will ensure that a higher percentage and a higher quality of material can be collected, processed, and recycled into new products.

Our March 2018 announcement of our new capacity to recycle coffee cups at our traditional paper mill in Kent was a big step forward in terms of identifying a new source of feedstock, as well as embracing innovation to access paper fibre that’s harder to reach than, for example, cardboard collected from retailers. However, this doesn’t negate the need for greater consistency in domestic collections, more collaboration across the paper recycling supply chain, or the prioritisation of the quality of materials collected for recycling. All of these must improve in order for us to increase our national recycling rate.

So while the EU’s announcement is a step in the right direction, and its ambition is a welcome boost, the successful realisation of these targets will require a significant shift in the UK’s approach to recycling. Achieving an improvement in our recycling rate will require clear guidance from the government, as well as increased funding for infrastructure improvement. Without investment or a consistent collection method that prioritises material quality, we will not be able to improve our recycling rates or recyclate quality – and we will not be able to ensure that materials intended for recycling are of a high enough quality that they will actually be recycled.