UK to miss 2035 recycling target ‘by a decade’

A warning issued by DS Smith cautions that the current recycling infrastructure in the UK will not be able to handle an increase in packaging from online sales, therefore they are risking the 2035 recycling target.

According to a report by packaging company Tipping Point, there has been “chronic under-investment” in the UK’s waste management system, while the amount of waste generated by packaging through online shopping has escalated dramatically.

According to DS Smith, approximately 18% of UK retail sales are made online. This is the equivalent of 1.9 billion parcels sent through the post every year. It is estimated this number will grow by a further 50 % in the next 10 years.

The report said: “We risk missing the 2035 recycling target [65% of municipal waste] by more than a decade… official figures today expose a creaking recycling infrastructure that is nearing overload.”

The report discovered that £630m had been spent in 2013-14 in comparison to the £569m that was spent in 2016-17.

The latest Defra figures revealed the following:

  • Packaging waste recycling declined from 71.4% in 2016 to 70.2% in 2017.
  • The recovery or recycling rate for paper and cardboard has fallen by 3.5%.

Jochen Behr, head of recycling at DS Smith, said: “The Tipping Point report makes for uncomfortable reading, and our research demonstrates just how close our bins are to overflowing.

“We see a system that does not consider the volume of today’s recycling, infrastructure which could be close to breakdown and a number of local authorities looking to adopt the cheapest waste treatment rather than improving the quality of collected dry recyclables.

“It creates a compelling case for joined-up, systemic change on how the UK deals with waste and recyclables.”

A YouGov poll commissioned by DS Smith went on to find that 37% of UK adults were worried that the materials they are recycling will end up in landfill or incineration sites.

Behr added: “It is particularly disappointing that, in the year since Blue Planet II, a moment that has awoken public desire to reduce waste and recycle more, the UK is set to miss both its short-term and long-term goals. This can only be further impacted by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.”

DS Smith has called on Government to appoint a dedicated minister for recycling and waste, with cross-departmental responsibility.

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