While the well documented ‘Blue Planet effect’ has undoubtedly helped to raise awareness, consumer and business recycling rates had been on an upward trajectory even before the screening of this seminal documentary series.
According to recently released EU figures, the amount of paper and cardboard packaging recycled in Europe reached a record high in 2016, at 85.8%.
2017 figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), meanwhile, found that 70.2% of UK packaging waste was recycled or recovered in 2017, including 79% of paper and cardboard waste.
“Consumers clearly understand that paper and cardboard packaging can be recycled, and they are doing so more and more,” says Pro Carton general manager Tony Hitchin.
“Recycling is great, and we need to have it, but we also want to be using materials that are renewable, and this is where the likes of paper-based packaging, cartonboard and the like are more beneficial because they are renewable and because of their biodegradability.”
While this all sounds positive, DS Smith has just released its own research that says the UK will fall short of its 2035 recycling targets by more than a decade.
The company says new consumer behaviours, such as the rapid adoption of e-commerce and therefore the exponential growth in the delivery of corresponding required packaging, are “compounding the recycling challenges that the UK is facing”.
It adds that as the UK’s recycling infrastructure was designed in a pre-e-commerce era, its findings “expose a creaking recycling infrastructure that is nearing overload”.
“The increase in packaging materials is not being accounted for within the current system,” says DS Smith head of government and community affairs Peter Clayson.
“In the UK, responsibility for consumer recycling is left to each local authority. Existing infrastructure, available finance, and accessibility are all weighed up to develop a bespoke approach deemed suitable for the area.
“As such, the recycling processes for two identical streets situated minutes apart can be entirely different. One authority may segregate food waste, paper and plastics, while another may bulk all recyclables together in one single bin. When considered on a national basis, the notion of good recycling is lost in a maze of alternatives.”
He adds: “Consumer demand for change is growing rapidly. The will to recycle is there, but the infrastructure is yet to catch up.
“Industry and the government need to harness public desire to waste less, reduce litter and improve recycling by providing one simple UK-wide recycling system, alongside clear labelling and more information about the benefits of best practice recycling. This is paramount to achieve further public buy-in, while also improving material quality.”
For businesses there is often a financial incentive to recycling. This is especially true in the case of printers, who handle a wide range of different materials on a daily basis, including paper and card, inks and solvents, chemicals and plates.
“If materials in the printing process can be segregated and collected then there is value,” says Prismm Environmental managing director Mike Jackson.
“Metals, plastics and papers will all get a printer rebates if processed internally correctly and collected in the right way.”
He adds: “Most sites we visit now have a good handle on recycling, however it is still often the case that money is the main driver behind change. My concern would be if the value of recycling drops, would companies continue to invest in best practice waste collection systems.”
While many will already be following these procedures, Jackson says there is detail within Defra’s Resources & Waste Strategy that could force businesses to segregate recyclable waste from their residual waste “in order for it to be collected and recycled appropriately”.
While this remains a consultation, he says Defra has made clear that it plans to legislate to make this happen and that the only element it will consult on are different options for how businesses will be required to separate their waste for recycling.
Jackson says: “There will be a fairly long considered process of consultation before any changes are made so we are likely not going to see any changes in months.
“That being said, we believe that all sites must be reviewing their processes now. If there are areas of improvement that can be achieved by a printer now, then this will help them be prepared for the future and will also most likely have a positive financial effect on their business.”
While plastic has had a bad rap recently, Jackson stresses that most plastics currently used in printing “are absolutely fine to recycle in their single polymer form” and “even more valuable than cardboard and paper in the secondary resource market”.
“It is complex multi compound designs that result in items being hard to recycle. We are hoping this correct message is getting across as the waste sector wants simple single material products for recycling.
“The last thing the industry wants is more complicated collection streams such as three different types of compostable paper, two different biodegradable plastics, new polymers, etc.”
Nevertheless, countless suppliers and brands are actively moving away from plastic while some others have switched to using recycled or environmentally friendly papers for their communications.
“There has been an increase in the request for recycled grades in recent years, albeit subtle when analysed in isolation, this is against a backdrop of falling tonnes in the graphical paper sector,” says Denmaur Paper Media director of marketing and sustainability Danny Doogan.
“Forest certified virgin fibre products have a separate but equally as important environmental message as recycled papers. It is necessary to ensure that paper fibre originates from sustainable (environmentally and socially) and legal sources.”
The awareness around recycling has arguably never been greater, but for many consumers and businesses change is still filtering through and there is much still left to do.
Eco principles will soon be a key part of every business
Jo Gallacher, editor, Recycling & Waste World
Environmental issues are at long last crawling up the public agenda. Last year, Defra released its long-anticipated Resources & Waste Strategy, the most thorough document on the future of the resources industry for over 10 years. It contained a series of ambitious promises, including a consultation on how businesses can effectively segregate their recyclable waste and demands for supply chains to work closer together.
The rise in paper and cardboard recycling rates may be indicative of a change in mindset, yet this pre-dates any ‘Blue Planet effect’ and instead represents a gradual shift of businesses looking to avoid costly landfill fees and use resource more wisely.
Now that the public scrutiny of waste, recycling and plastic pollution is at an all-time high, customers are beginning to expect much more from businesses. We are entering a new period of ‘conscious capitalism’ where businesses work towards a greater good as well as earning profit.
Sustainability targets will therefore soon become a fundamental pillar of any successful business, and whether pledges are set because of moral or ethical principles, or to simply help the bottom line, they will certainly be an invaluable tool for those looking to future-proof business and attract new customers.
The best way to prepare for legislative change is to talk with your supply chain, finding out where your materials have come from and where they will eventually end up. This can help to minimise waste, avoid contamination of materials and help to shine a light on areas in need of improvement.
More segregated recycling should therefore not be seen as a burden, but instead be welcomed as an opportunity to contribute to a more circular and sustainable economy where waste is seen as a resource. Our natural environment is everyone’s responsibility, and only through more partnerships and collaboration will we begin to see a real change taking shape.
How does your business approach waste and recycling?
Julian Hocking, managing director, Nationwide Print
“We went to a Green Foundation [meeting] at the Eden Project about eight years ago and that’s when we started looking at solar panels and other environmental issues. We recycle everything that’s possible. For plates and some of the other consumable items, our waste management firm leaves us big cages and pick them up when we ring them up to take them away, and paper is [collected] every week. We’re also co-branding with a reusable insulated bottle company and giving those out, first to our staff and second as a corporate gift.”
Richard Owers, director, Pureprint Group
“Recycling is an absolutely key part of any environmental management and sustainability programme, but it makes very good business sense as well. It’s been a core part of what we do for the best part of 30 years now – we’ve got very high rates of recycling, it’s good practice. Waste is only really recycled successfully if it has some value, otherwise it goes to landfill, and so discovering and maximising those value streams is a good business encouragement to pursuing the policy. 99.5% of our dry waste is currently diverted from landfill.”
Sam Shannon, managing director, Deltor Communications
“We try to minimise the amount of plastic that we are using and have started to use sustainable wrapping material, i.e. paper tape rather than plastic. We do have a lot of plastic coming through, but everything is recycled through J&G and Viridor. We have lots of bins in our offices and cages down on the floor – one for plastic, one for cardboard and one for paper – and [waste] will get segregated in those formats. We also don’t use any paper that isn’t FSC accredited, and we use a lot of recycled papers.”