Why the UK Needs Quality Recycling More Than Ever

UK recycling rates are deteriorating, China has shut its borders to almost all types of plastic waste, and there is a lot of confusion surrounding household recycling. Peter Clayson, general manager for Business Development and External Affairs at DS Smith Recycling, believes the current stresses of recycling could have been avoided if the UK focused on quality.

Recycling matters


of respondents believe recycling makes a difference

A survey carried out by Ipsos MORI earlier this year revealed that 7 out of 8 adults claim to be “fairly concerned” about the effects of plastic and packaging waste on the environment. However, only 14% of respondents were willing to pay more council tax to improve recycling facilities.

However, while residents are voicing their concerns, these concerns aren’t translating into actions – Suffolk Council recently reported an annual loss of £550,000, caused principally by its citizens putting items in the wrong recycle bins.. Has recycling become too complicated and confusing for residents?

Recyclability of items


of respondents are prepared to check if an item is recyclable or not

While household recycling is still in a state of confusion: The British Science Association recently revealed research findings which show that only 33% of Brits look at an item to see whether it’s recyclable or not before throwing it away.

Furthermore, out of the 2,000 people who took the poll, none were able to correctly answer every question about what items were recyclable – although 80% believe that recycling makes a difference. This indicates to me that people want to recycle, but need more guidance on what can and can’t be recycled.

The ‘Framework for Greater Consistency for Household Recycling in England’ was published by WRAP to help improve quality in recycling, however national and local governments haven’t yet been impacted by these guidelines. When it comes to understanding the benefits of gathering quality material for recycling, it appears that we need to educate ourselves; with news of Northampton’s ten-year contract for commingled recycling and Milton Keynes’ investment in incineration only highlighting this.

Identifying recycable items


of respondents were able to correctly identify all recyclable items

It comes as no real surprise that UK recycling rates are stagnating, or that export restrictions have been put in place by China to ensure environmental protection through better quality recycling materials. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

By implementing separate collections of recyclable materials across the UK, these problems could be solved, resulting in:

  • Less confusion about household recycling
  • A clear understanding of what is and isn’t recyclable
  • Better quality of materials sent for recycling
  • Improved recycling rates

If quality in recycling is at the core of the process, the financial implications for councils will be improved and reprocessors will be more inspired to buy local authority material. In turn, UK recycling rates will make progress.

If quality in recycling had been a focus from the off, China may have adopted a different stance towards our exports and councils may not be in the position they are I now – losing money due to the confusion of residents.


Find out why the UK might be on the verge of a recycling ‘tipping point’.

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