23 Feb. 2022: With Global Recycling Day just around the corner, we look at the many advantages of recycled paper.
This year, Friday 18 March is a key date for the sustainability industry. Created in 2018 to recognise and celebrate the importance of recycling in preserving the planet’s primary resources, Global Recycling Day aims to raise awareness of the circular economy and encourage governments, businesses and people to recycle more.
For most people across Europe, the value of recycling is clear: less waste and more efficient use of the world’s limited resources. But while many understand the basic advantages of filling their recycling boxes, there’s still more work to be done in explaining the many benefits to recycling and the work that can be done to improve recycling rates further.
The Secret Eco Warrior
When it comes to recycling, one material comes out on top: paper. With a current recycling rate of 74% in Europe – beating North America (66%) and Asia (54%) – it’s one of the most sustainable materials in the world. Given that there’s a theoretical maximum recycling rate of 78%, with certain paper products retained (books, archived documents, etc) or used in unrecyclable products such as sanitary products or insulation, 74% is a fantastic achievement. Delve deeper into the process of turning old paper into new and you’ll find a host of facts that makes recycled paper even more attractive.
Paper is highly recycled and, in Europe, re-used an average of 3.8 times. 56% of the fibrous raw material used in Europe’s paper industry comes from paper for recycling. [2, 3] Paper cannot be recycled indefinitely as the fibres get too short and worn out to be useful in creating a new sheet of paper. Furthermore, production cannot be based on 100% recycled fibre as 100% of consumption cannot be collected. The cycle must therefore be constantly refilled with new strong virgin fibres from sustainably managed forests.
A World Champion
A major success story for recycled paper is in packaging. With the pandemic accelerating the move to online shopping, the past two years has seen a huge increase in demand for paper and cardboard packaging. In May 2019, e-commerce transactions in the UK saw a 168% increase compared to the same period in the previous year.
This increase was reflected in reports from packaging suppliers such as DS Smith, who said the demand for recycled cardboard packaging had been strong. A 2019 report by Smithers also found that, even before Covid-19, the global corrugated packaging market was growing faster than expected, helped by the explosion of e-commerce and developments in digital printing technologies. The Future of Corrugated Packaging to 2023 report stated that the market is predicted to grow around 3.7% annually to reach $300 billion in 2023, with estimates of around 20% annual growth in e-commerce trade in Europe.
The beauty of paper and cardboard packaging is that, at 83%, its recycling rate is even higher than other types of paper. This makes it the most recycled material in the world – better than metal (80%), glass (75%) and plastic (42%).
Changing Attitudes And Behaviours
Aside from its very high recycling rate, there’s another key advantage to cardboard packaging: people like it. The 2021 Two Sides Trend Tracker survey found that 55% of Europeans prefer paper packaging as it’s better for the environment. When asked to choose their favourite packaging material based on a range of environmental, visual and physical attributes, respondents named paper/cardboard as favourite for 10 out of a possible 15. Key figures include 79% preferring it for being home compostable, 55% saying it’s better for the environment, and 51% saying it’s easier to recycle.
People are also becoming more aware of the sustainability values of the companies they use, with packaging being one of the clearest indicators of eco-friendliness. According to a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, 78% of consumers want more to be done by larger companies in order to promote sustainable packaging. As well as pressuring businesses to take more responsibility, consumers have also started changing their own behaviour, with the number of people reusing packaging doubling from 12% to 25%.
Governments and businesses would do well to follow the example of their own customers. “We need to see waste for what it really is – a wasted resource,” says Erik Solheim, Former Head of UN Environment. “There is no place on our planet anymore for products that are used only briefly and thrown away. We need to ensure planned obsolescence is a thing of the past. It’s time for countries in the world to dramatically step up recycling rates if we are to save this planet.”
1. Green America, 2022
2. European Paper Recycling Council, Monitoring Report, 2020
3. Cepi, Key Statistics, 2020
4. Internet Retailing, 2020
5. Financial Times, June 3, 2020
6. Eurostat, 2020
Submitted by: Sam Upton https://www.twosides.info/