Paper Recycling in the UK – Facts and Figures


Paper recycling in the UK has a long tradition which dates back more than 100 years. At the same time, it was the British paper industry that developed the so-called de-inking process which enables removal of inks and similar contaminants from recovered paper. But what do figures say about the UK’s paper recovery and recycling?

Percentage of Recycled Paper in the UK and Its Utilisation

Despite the long tradition of paper recycling, the UK did not achieve impressive results until recently. The percentage of recovered and collected paper started to rise only in the last few years. Today, over 78 percent of paper is recovered and recycled which is very encouraging. This is considerably higher than the average in the EU. But if net trade in finished paper and board products is included, the UK’s average is slightly over 65 percent which is lower from the European average that stands at 70.4 percent. On the other hand, the UK has utilisation rate of recovered paper at the impressive 88 percent as opposed to the European utilisation rate that is slightly above 50 percent.

How Much Paper is Recovered and Recycled in the UK

The UK has a good reason to be proud of its paper recovery and recycling. In 2011, about 8 million tonnes of paper and cardboard were recovered. At the same time, the quantity of recovered and recycled paper has been rising steadily over the last decade. Of the 8 million tonnes of paper that was recovered in 2011, slightly less than one half was taken to the UK’s mills and recycled, while a little bit more than 4 tonnes were exported.

The Importance of Paper Recycling for the UK

Paper recovery has its limits. Over time, the fibres become too weak to be reused. At the same time, a certain amount of paper is lost due to contamination, destruction (e.g. toilet paper, napkins, wallpaper) or manufacture of products such as books. But since only about 12 percent of the entire country is covered by forests, every sheet of recovered and recycled paper matters. At the same time, paper recovery and recycling is crucial for the country to meet its carbon dioxide emissions goal by both conserving the UK’s forests and reducing consumption of energy. Paper recycling emits over 70 percent less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases than virgin paper production.

The Future of Paper Recycling in the UK

Although the statistics about paper recovery and recycling in the UK are impressive, the government and the paper industry agree that there is still plenty of room for improvement. The government reached an agreement with the newspaper publishers who decided to increase the percentage of used recycled paper to nearly 80 percent by the end of year 2011, while the marketing industry agreed to recover 70 percent of junk mails, brochures and other materials by the end of year 2013. The same target – 70 percent of recovered paper material by the end of year 2013 – was also set by the publishers of periodicals.