CPI persuades Defra that paper and cardboard recycling rate data was wrong

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Paper pulp

The Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) has worked with Defra to correct a statistical report that suggested there had been a 15% fall in the paper and cardboard recycling rate over the last decade.

According to CPI, the third edition of the Resources and Waste Strategy Monitoring Progress report, published by Defra in November 2022, led to misleading coverage about the recycling rate of paper and card packaging products. 

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The report stated that, although recycling rates for most packaging material categories increased in the last 10 years, reduced levels of paper and card recycling flatlined the overall UK packaging recycling rate, which increased only by 2% (from 61% in 2012 to 63% in 2021).

Background data indicated that, since 2012, the level of waste arising for paper and card placed on the market has grown significantly. However, the amount treated has not increased. As paper and card represent the most common material category for packaging, the report concluded that reduced levels of paper and card recycling counteracted the rise in recycling for all other material categories.

CPI held discussions with Defra officials, which concluded that the overall recycling rate for paper and cardboard in the publication does not reflect the actual tonnages being recycled.

This is because changes in the methodology estimating waste arisings between 2012/13 and 2014 resulted in misleading tonnages reported for paper and card. The way tonnages for waste arisings were calculated pre-2014 caused volatility in the data presented, which consequently reduced the degree of confidence for any trends identified in the report. 

CPI director general Andrew Large said: “Statistical anomalies for waste arising reported pre-2014 led to claims that the recycling rate for paper and card packaging products declined by fifteen percentage points in the last decade. This is not correct.

“With a recycling rate of almost 70%, one of the highest recycling rates in the UK, and with around 80% of UK-made paper utilising recovered paper, paper and card packaging products are the most sustainable choice.

“We are pleased Defra engaged with CPI to develop a common view on recycling rates which, in turn, will lead to the revision of the commentary in the report in relation to recycling rates for paper and card.”