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UK's paper collection rate masks real facts

The UK’s progress in increasing its paper collection rate to near the European average is said to mask the real facts.

Data from the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) mill returns and HM Revenue and Customs shows that of the paper and board consumed in the UK during 2005, 62.4% of this was recovered- leaving us just 0.2% away from the European average of 62.6%.

But the collection figure also reflects how reliant the UK has become on export markets for material collected from the UK waste stream.

In 2005, UK domestic reprocessors utilised 74.7% of recovered paper for their raw material, one of the highest levels in Europe, which averages only 47.6%. But this again is said to give a false impression of the UK’s performance.

CPI recovered paper section manager Peter Seggie said: “These figures only tell half a story.

Going forward, you would expect the UK to be in a strong position, but in reality, the UK continues to have one of the lowest domestic recycling rates in Europe, 36.1% against a European average of 54.6%.

“This is mainly due to the huge imbalance between UK production and utilisation. The UK produces less than 50% of its domestic needs, and has a low level of exports. This means that even with a very high utilisation rate, domestically we use just over 50% of what we collect.”

The UK presently exports just under 50% of what is recovered. But with collection rates improving, many believe this figure will overtake domestic usage during 2006.

Seggie added: “This is sustainable as long as there are expanding overseas markets as currently being experienced with China, but the increasing collection rates of European partners mean they will become strong competitors in the future.

“Should any issues arise with overseas demand, the UK will be among the first to suffer because of the low domestic reprocessing level. Continued energy price pressures on domestic reprocessors may contribute to further mill closures and job losses, and inevitably increased reliance on export markets.”

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