Can the UK meet the Circular Economy Package’s recycling targets?

DS Smith recycles around a quarter of the UK’s paper every year. Here, Peter Clayson, General Manager for Business Development and External Affairs at DS Smith Recycling, looks at what the UK needs to do to achieve the recycling targets outlined in the Circular Economy Package.

The EU Council has now formally adopted the Circular Economy Package, which incorporates binding recycling targets of 55% municipal waste recycling by 2025, rising to 60% by 2030, and 65% by 2035. The ambition is similar for the recycling of all packaging materials, with targets of 65% by 2025 and 70% by 2030. Targets for paper and card specifically rise to 85% in the same time frame. But when these aspirations are compared with reality, there’s a real concern that the UK is going to fall short. With a current municipal recycling rate of 45.2%, the country is well below the place it needs to be in order to increase its recycling by 10% within the next eight years.

In their ‘Who Really Leads the World?’ report, Eunomia placed the UK at 18 out of 24 on the European recycling table, and rates are already struggling. Without a step-change in the way that we recycle, we’re not going to hit the Circular Economy Package’s targets – but we must avoid short-term or knee-jerk responses to the problem. We need a joined-up, thematic approach that ensures every part of the national supply chain is moving in the same direction.

Legislative leadership
The challenges for the UK’s recycling rates are widespread. Local authorities are battling against budget cuts, there’s limited investment in recycling infrastructure, and the government has laid out ambitious visions – but is yet to transform this vision into the legislative framework needed to create better recycling infrastructures. In the past we have seen some significant policies and regulations – such as the Landfill Tax and the PRN system – make positive impacts on recycling performance, but to some degree recently we have relied on voluntary measures to plug gaps in our recycling systems. However successful voluntary initiatives are, such initiatives tend to only target specific areas of recycling and waste management.
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