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Taking the long-term view will safeguard the paper market

The market for recycled paper is evolving. Subject to vagaries of supply and demand, prices come under pressure as global recession makes its impact felt in the Far East and in Europe. Rising fuel prices are also adding to supply chain costs and it would be easy to consider that this paints a gloomy outlook.

However, it is important to remember that recycling in Europe has become a sophisticated and savvy entity that can be shaped and adapted to meet these new challenges. It requires less focus on commoditisation and offers an opportunity to step back, look at the bigger picture and consider the whole approach. What we can’t change is this potential for market volatility, what we can change is how we approach the areas we can influence.   

As part of the DS Smith Group – the UK’s largest paper and packaging manufacturer - DS Smith Recycling handles circa 1.7 million tonnes of fibre each year, this gives us a broad view of the challenges and the opportunities in the waste paper sector.

Take the constant debate on commingled versus source segregated. On the one hand you can ensure a large, if contaminated, feedstock supply, which runs the risk of ending up in landfill. On the other you are assured of a cleaner, high quality, cheaper to process feedstock, for which there will always be demand.

While companies weigh the pros and cons of each, the market is moving rapidly around them.  Year on year collection rates for both are rising as educational messages about recycling,  both in the business and domestic environment continue to take effect.

Industry best practice is to keep materials as clean as possible as far down the recycling process as possible, but this needs to be balanced against the practicalities of servicing households and business with multiple bins. At the end of the day, it is about identifying a way of achieving a balanced approach that will deliver high recycling rates whilst minimising contamination, by encouraging only the comingling paper waste with those waste streams which are least likely to cause contamination.

In this way, both public sector and commercial stakeholders can have a real impact on reducing the three million tonnes of paper waste that ends up in landfill in the UK each year and deliver an end product that marries the ease, cost-effectiveness, quality and manufacturing requirements required by the supply chain.

To stop contamination becoming a long-term issue to recyclers, there has to be far greater consistency in waste management practices across the UK. Best practice at local authority level needs to be applauded and shared and more education on the impact commingling can have on waste paper rejection rates is critical. 

It’s certainly a balancing act, and there is no easy solution, but from a policy point of view the UK needs to be looking far into the future and have the foundations in place that will ensure we continue to grow our recycling rates, but not to the detriment of quality. 

A long-term, holistic approach that delivers consistency, best practice, flexibility and innovative thinking will all ensure that the waste paper recycling market in the UK will ride out the current global storm.

Tim Price, national commercial manager for DS Smith Recycling

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