A “full-blown recycling crisis” is looming in the UK, the boss of London-listed packaging firm DS Smith has warned.
With the UK trying to up its environmental commitments ahead of the UN’s flagship climate conference COP26 in November, DS Smith chief executive Miles Roberts has said the country is “throwing away” opportunities that could help green-up Britain.
The crisis, “if left unchecked, could cost the economy billions of pounds and do untold damage to the environment,” Roberts wrote in This is Money.
“The pandemic and explosion in online home shopping have driven huge shifts in consumer behaviour and the UK’s creaking recycling infrastructure can no longer cope with the sheer amount of packaging being thrown away.”
With parcel volumes hitting record highs, at a total of 3bn last year, the UK needs to bolster its recycling rates if it wants to be a champion for the environment when hosting COP26 in Glasgow in a little over three months.
However, Roberts revealed that the UK could turn its record amount of packaging waste into a billion-pound business.
“Despite more people willing to recycle than ever before, recycling rates for paper and cardboard packaging have dropped sharply from a peak of nearly 80 per cent in 2017 to just 65 per cent in 2020,” Roberts explained.
“If the UK was able to recycle this material and turn it into new packaging papers, it would be worth billions to the economy – up to £1bn last year alone.
“Instead, we are literally throwing away green jobs and green investment at a time when we should be supporting our national sustainability and climate change efforts.”
Recycling system shake-up
Roberts called for a “simpler, standardised” recycling system to make it easier for the public – as well as large businesses – to turn their waste into something usable, such as new packaging or money.
“This represents a common-sense approach which would boost the quality and quantity of our recycling and has worked well for many years in leading recycling nations such as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
“In contrast, there are up to 300 different council recycling schemes in England with a huge variety of different kerbside recycling arrangements.”
England also burnt more waste than it recycled in 2019, Roberts added, with 11.6m tonnes incinerated. A practice which is fundamental in ramping up carbon emissions – which the UK has pledged to slash.
“If we are to avoid overflowing bins, meet our net zero climate targets and truly build back better, it will take a combined effort to get to grips with our recycling infrastructure.”