Why a packaging shortage has led to a scrabble for 'beige gold'

3 February 2021

Lockdowns, Christmas and increased home deliveries have resulted in a packaging shortage and spiralling cardboard prices.

Cardboard has been in massive demand since March last year, and reports of thefts have led to it being dubbed "beige gold". 

Simon Ellin, CEO at The Recycling Association, said: "Because of the demand for home deliveries – known as the Amazon effect – cardboard has been in huge demand since the first lockdown in March 2020.

"This has been reflected in the robust and sustained prices paid for recycled paper during this period."

Recycled paper is used in the production of cardboard and staff absences of up to 40% across the waste and recycling industry have exacerbated supply pressures.

David Jinks, head of consumer research at global courier ParcelHero, said small retailers and logistics firms had been hit with “increasing scarcity and rising prices” for cardboard.

“We have heard of products being delayed for shipment just because of problems sourcing specially designed packaging,” he added.

Mark Hall, spokesperson at waste management firm BusinessWaste.co.uk, told the Daily Mail there had been cases of cardboard thefts in the UK. 

"Cardboard is in many ways the new scrap metal or beige gold. I did hear about someone posing as a waste company and they took thousands of tons off someone, sold it and disappeared," he said.

Packaging firm DS Smith said increased demand for packaging had led to a global shortage of paper, with a 20% drop in recycled paper across Europe at the end of 2020.

A DS Smith spokesperson told SM it had increased investments, capacity and innovation to meet the shift to online shopping. 

“Our teams across our packaging plants and paper mills are working at full capacity to respond to keep supply chains moving.” 

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