Currently in the UK we recycle around 70% of the paper we use. Of the paper recovered in the UK, 87% is recycled, whereas the European average is just 51%. Paper recycling facilities started to be provided in the 1970s, and have gradually become more widely available. Today the majority of households in the UK have kerbside recycling collections, most of which include paper.
Approximately one third of all trees felled in the world are for paper production. Forests cover just 12% of the land in the UK, so using recovered paper makes sense on both an economic and environmental level. Twenty four trees are needed to make just one ton of paper.
The amount of materials recovered has increased significantly since the introduction and expansion of kerbside collections, with as much as 60% of waste which would have been put into landfill now being put to use in recycled products. Wrapping paper is a big issue – so big that the amount we use at Christmas alone could more than cover the surface of the island of Guernsey. This has just recently become widely accepted in kerbside collection.
Still room for improvement
The average UK family throws the equivalent of 6 trees worth of paper into landfill per year. 40% of rubbish going to landfill in the UK is paper. Many people might think it doesn’t really matter since paper is biodegradable, but unfortunately that’s not the case. The biodegradable materials in landfill cause environmental damage because they release methane gas as they decompose.
It is impossible to recover 100% of all paper used, as some paper products are for long term use items such as books, whilst others are for very short term use but are not recoverable (such as toilet roll). However there’s still plenty of scope for improving paper recycling rates in the UK, and closing the loop through the purchase of recycled paper products.