New figures from leading packaging company DS Smith have revealed the alarming amount of plastic waste ending up in the UK’s paper and cardboard recycling streams.
Just last year, DS Smith’s Kemsley Paper Mill – the UK’s largest recycled paper mill – measured enough plastic contamination in paper and board materials destined for recycling to fill up to 4.8 million black garbage bags.
The striking figure, based on tests using new near-infrared technology, reveals just how widespread the problem of rogue plastic is and further underscores the importance of quality controls in the recycling industry.
DS Smith introduced advanced quality measurement tools including near infrared technology to assess the quality of material from home and commercial collections. The process allows DS Smith to identify the worst offenders and proactively work with them to improve isolation and collection methods.
To alleviate the problem and ensure that as much paper is collected as possible, DS Smith’s own collection infrastructure implements an eight-step process to ensure that plastic-screened bales are separated and sorted for further processing prior to their shipment. arrival at the factory.
We have argued for many years about the importance of quality materials for recycling, and the importance of separate collections to ensure that paper and cardboard can be easily recycled.
Jochen Behr, Recycling Manager for DS Smith, said: “Introducing state-of-the-art monitoring equipment into our factory has allowed us to be vigilant about the quality of the materials we process in the UK. It is important that the right materials end up in the right recycling facility.
“We have advocated for many years on the importance of quality materials for recycling and the importance of separate collections to ensure that paper and cardboard can be easily recycled, and therefore underpin their qualities as important contributors. to the circular economy. “
The importance of collection channels and the management of plastic contamination problems at source were revealed by the new data provided. Paper and cardboard are more likely to be contaminated with plastics when they come from mixed recycling collections – where materials such as glass, cans, paper and plastics are collected together – as opposed to separate collections .
In some cases, the amount of contamination can double, says DS Smith. As such, the company is calling for more local authorities to adopt collections where these materials are separated.
By working with recyclable paper suppliers, from retailers and supermarkets to collection agencies and boards, DS Smith engages in data sharing and works in partnership to resolve quality issues. Returning materials to the point of origin and advice on collections and better handling of materials will ultimately reduce the risk of contamination from plastics and other materials.
DS Smith’s recent “Tipping point” report predicted the UK would miss its 65% recycling target in 2035 by more than a decade. The report calls on policymakers to introduce separate card and paper collections as mandatory to improve the quality of materials collected for recycling. These new data highlight the extent of the problem of plastics contaminating paper recycling streams.