Cardboard recycling prices have fallen in recent months. This is largely being caused by a massive drop in demand from the Chinese market. For the last few decades, China has been accepting much of the waste from around the world making it a large market for recycled cardboard and plastic. Given the fact that the country has vast manpower and technology to deal with it, they have been able to handle materials of a low-quality while finding a use for them in their manufacturing. This has been helped dramatically by the ease of shipping between the EU and China. But in the last couple of years, there have been some fundamental changes to the way in which China deals with waste. In 2017 strict rules have been put in place by the Chinese government which dramatically minimizes the amount of waste that the country will import. The legislation also seeks to increase the quality of the recycled materials that the country will accept. UK paper mills are full and globally, waste is set to increase by over 50% within the next thirty years. With all of these factors in play, prices for recycled cardboard have dropped to a quarter of their previous price.
The Knock-On Effects To UK Recycling The shift in demand from China has had a vast effect on the cost of recycling in the UK. With roadside collections increasing in cost, and the threat of increased future waste raising by 50% again by 2050, the situation is critical. As the UK scrambles around looking for alternative buyers for the recycling that it produces, some successes have been found in other Southeast Asian countries. Another area of concern for the UK cardboard recycling industry is the uncertainty over Brexit. The plans to leave the EU are yet to be finalised, but while the UK government has been debating the issue long and hard, the rest of the EU is moving on the recycling problem by increasing recycling capacities in both Germany and Italy.
How To Change The Situation It is clear that something needs to be done about this situation. There are a couple of different ways that everyone can help. Firstly a reduction in the waste that we produce would mean that less needs to be processed in the first place. There have already been some improvements in this area with the reduction of single-use coffee cups and straws in pubs. With many big businesses starting to get behind the cause, the issue is starting to gain traction. By separating our waste better we will be able to ensure that the quality of the waste is better. Providing higher quality recycled cardboard may be something that may appeal to the new policies in China and we can once again return to exporting our waste to the largest potential market that is available for it. With an ever-changing political landscape, there may yet be a solution that can be found through investment in our own capacity to handle this waste.