'Recycling crisis' fuels cardboard packaging shortage

22 March 2021

Packaging firm DS Smith has warned of a “recycling crisis” against the backdrop of a shortage of cardboard that has seen firms switch to plastic alternatives.

The firm said online shopping and lockdowns had created more home deliveries but householders were running out of space to recycle cardboard. Recycled cardboard is needed to make packaging.

DS Smith said research showed half of UK households (49%) ran out of room in recycling bins, with a quarter saying this happened every two weeks or more frequently.

Rogier Gerritsen, MD at the DS Smith Recycling Division, said: "It is disappointing to see that the latest government figures from Defra indicate our recycling infrastructure has yet again failed to move significantly forward. At a less than a 1% increase to 45.5%, this means we are still trailing significantly behind our overall targets and leaves us lagging behind other European nations, such as Germany which is recording a rate of 67%.

"We urgently need a reform around our collection infrastructure and the best way for us to improve recycling rates is to focus on quality – in particular, paper and cardboard.” 

Cardboard has been in massive demand since March last year, and reports of thefts have led to it being dubbed "beige gold". In response firms have been forced to switch to plastic alternatives.

E-commerce sales reached a record level in January 2021, making up 35.2% of total retail, up from 29.6% in December 2020 and climbing 15.7% year-on-year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Packaging firm Quadrient said retailers were struggling to fulfil orders due to a shortage of cardboard packaging.

Jo Bradley, business development manager for packaging solutions at Quadient, said: “The price of corrugated cardboard has risen from around £60 a tonne in December 2020 to about £75.50 a tonne in late January 2021.

“Quite simply the switch to online retailing has resulted in a substantial and sustained hike in the amount of cardboard that is needed throughout the retail supply chain so, in the short to medium term at least, packaging buyers will have to cope with the double whammy of longer lead times and higher prices.”

Meanwhile, the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment, which represents carton manufacturers across the EU, has announced a 2030 roadmap that aims to achieve a collection rate of 90% and a 70% recycling rate.

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