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Local authorities could save in excess of £100 million through separate collections

DS Smith, the leading sustainable packaging provider, and its local authority partners have today revealed the significant savings that could be made if paper and cardboard are collected separately to other recycling.

With the UK government concluding its consultation on the consistency of recycling collections, and consumers pushing for ever-higher recycling rates, local authorities have a clear duty when deciding on future collection systems or re-negotiating their current waste management contracts.

DS Smith’s paper for recycling (PfR) analysis shows that co-mingled recycling is more than twice as likely to be contaminated than paper and cardboard that has been separated from other streams at source. For every percentage gain in quality, there is a significant economic and environmental benefit. 

This is supported by DS Smith’s partner Reigate & Banstead Borough Council, who collect paper and card separately and supply DS Smith with over 7,000 tonnes of paper and card every year. An evaluation of this authority’s collections revealed an annual saving of around £470,000 versus fully co-mingled recycling collections. Replicated across all collection authorities in England, this could deliver over £100 million in savings, as a result of the higher values of separated paper and card as well as the remaining recyclables mix. 

Frank Etheridge, Strategic Head of Service at Reigate & Banstead Borough Council, commented: “We have worked in partnership with DS Smith for more than 15 years. As part of this relationship, we took the conscious decision to install a dual stream collection system that separates paper and card from the glass, plastic and can container fraction.  

Since adopting this system, we have maintained impressively high material quality levels. While the investment may initially seem substantial (purchasing new containers, additional collection vehicles and on-boarding more staff), annual cost savings offset these figures considerably. In fact, findings from a Surrey Environment Partnership review shows that the borough’s approach has been proven as the cheapest option by far.

Peter Clayson, Head of Government Affairs at DS Smith Recycling, said: “At DS Smith, we’ve continued to promote the environmental benefits of source-segregated recycling collections for many years. Our Kemsley Paper Mill, near Sittingbourne in Kent, processes more than 1 million tonnes of recyclable paper every year or nearly 30% of the total paper reprocessed in the UK.  

Peter Clayson
What we see is that separate collections bring both economic and environmental benefits to communities - more value is realised from residents’ recycling efforts and materials intended for recycling do not end up in landfill or incineration – it’s a win-win situation. — Peter Clayson, Head of Government Affairs

Where materials intended for recycling end up is a real concern for UK householders. A recent YouGov survey on behalf of DS Smith revealed that over a third of adults surveyed feared that items they recycle end up in landfill or incineration sites.

Clayson concluded: “We appreciate that switching to separate paper and card recycling collections can’t be actioned overnight. In fact, breaking collection contracts and replacing entire fleets with suitable vehicles would be impossibly prohibitive, but a managed transition to separate collection of paper and card is possible. The end result is better for the tax payer and for the environment and therefore, the Government must consider these findings in its Resources and Waste Strategy consultations.” 

Separate collection of card and paper was one of five key recommendations from DS Smith’s recent report, 'The Tipping Point'.  Other recommendations included appointing a dedicated Recycling Minister, setting nationwide statutory recycling targets, the application of universal labelling, and putting circular economy at the heart of the Budget. 

Meanwhile, DS Smith reaffirmed its commitment to achieve 100% reusable or recyclable packaging by 2025, alongside its intention to participate in new trials to solve how the UK collects and processes rising quantities of e-commerce packaging and hard-to-recycle products, such as coffee cups.