This week a letter has been sent from the Recycling Association to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) asking it to ensure recycling collections from households are maintained. This comes after growing concerns that local authorities are struggling to cope with the increase in waste due to the lockdown. Some local authorities are prioritising general waste collections over recycling or garden waste. Many community recycling centres have also been closed.
This significant increase in waste and our inability to cope with it shows a much needed lack of resources and infrastructure in the recycling sector. Increasing the amount of recyclable waste that ends up in landfill is bad for a number of reasons. Firstly, materials such as cardboard, metal cans or some plastic could be recycled and therefore kept in circulation for longer. Recycling, whilst not perfect, is desperately needed to enable us to claw back what we can from the materials we throw away. Cardboard has, up until now, had one of the highest recycling rates. Recycled fibre is needed by manufacturers to make into new cardboard boxes. The lockdown and subsequent closure of many high street chains has also contributed to the significant drop in the amount of cardboard available for recycling.
Shortage of Cardboard
The Recycling Association predicts that if recycling rates fall over the coming weeks, there is likely to be a shortage of fibre, certainly in the UK, if not worldwide. Most new cardboard boxes can be manufactured from as much as 50% recycled fibres. If there is a shortage of this recycled content, manufacturers will have to source greater quantities of new pulp, resulting in deforestation, and further contributing to climate change.
There have been many references in the news this week about the importance of plastic in the fight against coronavirus. Plastic is indeed a very useful material, hygienic, lightweight and easy to clean. It has become of vital importance in the form of PPE to send to our frontline doctors and nurses. The problem comes when we need to dispose of it. While medical waste must be incinerated, what happens to other plastic waste?
A report by the NGO Tearfund has found that the four global drinks giants are responsible for more than half a million tonnes of plastic pollution in six developing countries each year. That’s enough plastic to cover 83 football pitches a day. Some of this waste is burned in open sites, causing significant air pollution that is a serious health hazard to locals and contributes to climate change. Tearfund is calling on companies to dramatically reduce the production and sale of single use plastic packaging and switch to refillable or reusable options.
But this is not only a problem in developing countries. It is currently estimated that worldwide only 9% of plastic is recycled. This is partly due to a lack of infrastructure and partly consumer habits. The rest gets incinerated, goes to landfill and a significant proportion ends up in our environment. If present trends continue, the National Geographic estimates that by 2050 there will be 12 billion metric tonnes of plastic in landfill.
How should businesses respond?
With a problem this huge, a good place to start is to cut out all unnecessary packaging and that which is likely to be ‘single use’. Even though a large proportion of packaging can be recycled, it doesn’t mean it actually will be. Sustainability needs to be a driving factor in your choice of packaging. Think about what might happen to your packaging after it has done its job. Is it likely to be recycled, or could it end up going to landfill?
Cardboard boxes are a popular choice of packaging due to their strength, durability and their high recycled content. They also have a high likelihood of being recycled after use. Even if they do escape into the environment, they won’t cause as much harm as plastic and they will eventually biodegrade.
As demand for cardboard is likely to go up over the next few months, think about how you can source your packaging sustainably. Reuseabox promote reuse on an industrial scale by making it easy for companies to reuse cardboard boxes. Choose from new surplus or once used cardboard boxes. By choosing to reuse, you still get great quality packaging, but you’re actively choosing to keep cardboard in use for longer. This results in packaging that is,
– Available on demand with little to no lead times.
– Better for the environment, contributing to a more circular economy.
– Reasonably priced.
To find out more about how Reuseabox can help you with your packaging needs, check out our website
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