Two in five pieces of paper and cardboard to end up in landfill by 2030 as UK paper recycling rates decline

A recent study by DS Smith has brought to light a concerning trend in the UK’s paper and cardboard recycling landscape. The research, titled ‘Wasted Paper: A Path to Better Recycling,’ reveals that if the current decline in paper recycling rates persists, more than 40% (44%) of paper and cardboard could end up in landfills. This projected loss of sustainable packaging is estimated to reach a staggering 17.3 million tonnes, incurring a cost of £2.8 billion. The report attributes this decline to five consecutive years of reduced recycling rates in the UK, coinciding with the growth of e-commerce, and positions the country as one of the poorest performers in recycling across Europe.

Notably, despite being the third-largest producer of paper and cardboard waste in Europe, the UK ranks 25th out of 30 European nations for recycling rates. In 2020, only 74% of paper and cardboard was recycled, compared to the European average of 82%. DS Smith’s report projects a potential drop to as low as 56% by 2030. The study also highlights a concerning trend among young people, with recycling seen as ‘falling out of fashion,’ particularly among 18-24-year olds. The report emphasises the need for urgent measures, including separate collections for paper and card, a uniform recycling approach, enhanced labelling, and increased consumer education, to reverse the declining recycling rates in the UK. However, the report criticises the recent Simpler Recycling announcement, describing it as a ‘backwards step’ that promotes co-mingled collection and may exacerbate contamination issues compared to a source-segregated model.