Coronavirus – UK faces cardboard shortage due to crisis

31st March 2020 | Recycling

The UK could be hit by a national cardboard shortage as more and more local councils suspend their regular recycling collections owing to pressures caused by the coronavirus outbreak, the industry’s trade body has warned. The Recycling Association said it has huge concerns about a looming European and even worldwide shortage of fibre – used paper and cardboard – which is used to manufacture millions of cardboard boxes essential for food and medical supplies distribution.

Struggling to cope with a surge in rubbish collection equivalent to levels at Christmas now that households are in virtual lockdown, local authorities are increasingly scaling back and even suspending food, green waste and recycling collections. With home deliveries skyrocketing, much of the fibre will end up in general household bins, which means it will be incinerated or go into landfill. The Recycling Association (TRA) warns. Valuable quantities of fibre have also been lost from major high street retailers such as McDonald’s, Primark, John Lewis, Argos and B&Q after non-essential businesses were told to close.

Cardboard shortage

Simon Ellin, chief executive of the TRA, said, “Of huge concern to us is the signs that Europe is already becoming short of fibre with which to make cardboard boxes. Food and medical supplies all move by cardboard box and if we can’t make cardboard boxes, everything stops. If councils stop collecting recycling, and many are, all this fibre is burnt or goes to landfill and we will be short.”  The body represents more than 100 organisations from the collection and processing sector, ranging from independent merchants, brokers, waste management companies and mills. It is the largest network of independent waste and recycling operators in the UK, with a combined annual turnover in excess of £2bn.

Fibre recycling is a global market and materials flow across Europe and the world, but the lockdown means physical barriers are increasingly springing up to prevent this distribution. In Germany – the biggest European player – significant volumes of fibre come from Poland, but the Poland-Germany border is now shut. This has meant Germany is now seeking material from France and the UK.

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