DS Smith boss calls for recycling reform

Jo Francis
Monday, October 25, 2021

DS Smith CEO Miles Roberts has called for the UK’s fragmented recycling systems to be standardised – and for there to be separate collections for paper and card – in order to plug a recycling gap that could be costing the economy up to £1bn a year.

DS Smith's collaboration ecosystem
DS Smith's collaboration ecosystem

With the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow poised to kick off on Sunday 31 October, Roberts said that the eyes of the world would be on the UK, which was “not doing enough” to keep up with leading recycling nations such as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. 

He said the UK’s “creaking recycling infrastructure” was struggling to cope as parcels and online shopping have boomed during the Covid-19 pandemic, while the recycling rates for paper and cardboard have actually fallen by 15% since 2017. 

“Much of this alarming drop can be put down to the fragmented way in which we go about recycling in the UK, with up to 300 different council recycling schemes in England alone and a huge variety of kerbside recycling systems quite rightly leaving households confused and struggling to make sense of how they can make a real difference,” he said. 

“As a priority, we need a simpler, standardised system of recycling with separate household waste collections for paper and card. One more bin, to allow for separate collections of paper and cardboard, can go a long way to increasing our recycling rates and stop the UK economy losing up to £1bn every year in lost recycling value.”

Roberts said the government had been canvassing industry views on the best way forward, and there was an opportunity, post-Brexit, to put in place minimum local and national statutory recycling targets.

“We look forward to seeing the development of the Environment Bill and the outcome of the consultations on, amongst other key issues, the consistency in the way we collect recycling from our homes. But it needs to be the right kind of consistency, with separate collections of paper and cardboard at its very heart.”

He pointed to the example of continental countries with “progressive policies and waste prevention practices”.

“Many of Europe’s leading recycling nations have widespread separate collection systems at the household level. They also operate deposit return schemes on packaging and ban certain materials being dumped in landfill or incinerated,” he noted. 

“If we are to avoid overflowing bins, meet our net zero climate targets and truly build back better, it will take a combined effort from government, business, and civil society to get to grips with our recycling infrastructure and create a system that can rise to the challenge of a Britain that fully embraces the circular economy to create a more sustainable society for now and future generations to come.”

A DS Smith survey found that 47% of respondents said their recycling capacity needed to be bigger. 


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