Recycling – an essential service even in the time of Covid-19
By Sam Jones, Sustainability Strategy and Communications Manager at DS Smith
The Covid-19 pandemic may have changed working habits and the way we interact with others, but the climate emergency has remained constant even as the world goes into lockdown. At a time of crisis, it can be easy to forget the net-zero pledges that companies and countries across the world have committed to over the past few years, but they still stand, reminding us that reducing our impact on the environment is more important than ever.
One way of doing so is through the circular economy, with one of its key pillars to keep materials in use for as long as possible, thereby reducing the need for virgin materials and, ultimately, limiting the excessive consumption of resources.
DS Smith’s Box to Box in 14 days model is a fantastic example of this. On average we use 80% recycled fibres in our packaging (with all virgin fibres chain of custody certified) and these fibres going around the loop up to 25 times. It’s the circular economy in action and is just one example of how we are reducing our impact on the environment.
However, like any closed-loop system, it’s dependent on each link in the chain remaining strong.
Throughout the pandemic, and despite waste management services being listed on ‘key workers’ lists in countries like the UK, some countries are beginning to see a small drop in recycling. We are working closely with local authorities, encouraging them to maintain collections to support the supply of essential raw materials underpinning the critical work of the paper and packaging industry in keeping essential goods moving. We are not, at this stage, being majorly impacted by any decline in paper for recycling, but we are monitoring the situation closely with both customers and industry bodies.
In fact, we have seen a significant spike in retail grocery sales as people initially stockpiled on essential items due to Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, many of our retail customers experienced peak periods that were even busier than Christmas and we have had to be responsive to support them throughout this period.
As consumers move en-masse to e-commerce due to enforced shop closures, it is essential that we continue to collect used cardboard packaging from households. As the largest recycler in Europe, we manage around 6 million tonnes of material each year. We use this to feed our network of paper mills which in turn supply our packaging manufacturing operations, keeping the goods flowing to supermarkets, medical supplies to the front line and household deliveries to the doorstep. The scale of our recycling operations allows us to be flexible in providing materials to where they are needed most.
Packaging is an essential solution in these critical times, but without recycling to support the system, it would be harder to make the boxes you need to deliver everyday essentials straight to your homes. It’s not just about the system – without continued collections we might see burning of waste on open fires or material going to incineration or landfill.
At a time when everyone is coming together to support the vulnerable, it’s vital that we continue to recycle used fibre packaging in order to keep valuable materials in use for as long as possible and ensure supply chains continue to flow. Not only will this help towards the Covid-19 effort, but it will also help to protect our resources and ensure we have a more sustainable future.