With newspapers cutting their print circulations, the rise of the smartphone, and ‘paperless offices’, you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re doing a decent job of cutting down on using paper. Well, we’re swimming in it, and using more than ever before – global consumption of paper has increased by almost half since 1980.
The worst offenders? Belgium, Finland and Austria.
Worse, while paper is completely recyclable, the majority of it continues to come directly from logged trees. The problem is particularly acute across Europe: Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Madrid, Paris, Rome and London all collect and recycle less than half of their paper.
But in the East, the capital cities of Slovenia and Estonia are streaking ahead: Ljubljana and Tallinn have paper collection rates of 84% and 74% respectively. What’s going on?
Ljubljana is the poster child for cleaning up its act on paper waste: it’s gone from zero separate collection of waste (throwing everything into the same bin) in 2004 to a recycling rate of 61% – well above the EU average. A strong communications campaign swayed public opinion to back door-to-door collection of waste, sorted into different bins. A similar process in Tallinn has also been hugely effective.
Clearly there’s a lot to learn when it comes to sorting paper waste – a mundane-sounding, but vital part of the recycling process, and a new European-wide project is aiming to get to grips with the issue. IMPACT PapeRec kicked off at the start of February, bringing together 36 experts from eight countries representing research institutes, municipalities, the paper industry and NGOs.
The project focuses on countries with below-average paper recycling rates such as Bulgaria, Poland and Romania as well as countries where paper from households, small shops and offices is often collected together with other recyclables – like in France and the UK
The main objective of IMPACT PapeRec is to provide an innovative and common knowledge platform, which will enable cooperation between the key stakeholders involved in the paper value chain. This will also enable an analysis of how best practices in paper-for-recycling collection and assessment procedures can be delivered, considering specific local conditions.
In addition, it will encourage reliable decisions and make solutions available to local authorities ensuring the procurement and supply of paper in Europe through the improvement of current municipal paper collection.
More information on IMPACT PapeRec