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.