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UK to miss 2035 recycling target ‘by a decade’

DS Smith has warned that the UK’s current recycling infrastructure will not be able to deal with an increase in packaging from online sales, and there is a risk the 2035 recycling target will be missed.

A report by packaging company Tipping Point said there had been “chronic under-investment” in the UK’s waste management system, while the amount of packaging waste generated through e-commerce has rocketed.

According to DS Smith, around 18% of UK retail sales are made online. This equates to 1.9 billion parcels sent through the post each year and, within 10 years, the number of parcels is expected to grow by a further 50%.

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 found £630m had been spent on recycling infrastructure in 2013-14 compared with £569m in 2016-17.

Latest Defra figures show that overall packaging waste recycling declined from 71.4% in 2016 to 70.2% in 2017. The situation for paper and cardboard packaging is worse, with the Office for National Statistics revealing that the recovery or recycling rate for this material 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.”

DS Smith also commissioned a YouGov poll which found that 37% of UK adults said they feared the materials they recycle were likely to 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 called on the Government to appoint a dedicated minister for recycling and waste, with cross-departmental responsibility.

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