Simon Ellin attributed the change to the flow of material going into materials recycling facilities (MRFs) to the so-called Amazon effect – the impact of e-commerce on consumer shopping habits.
Exacerbated by national lockdowns, the Amazon effect sees customers receive products through the post rather than going into physical shops. Products sent through the post require additional packaging.
During the lockdown, the paper recovery sector saw an increase in brown paper and boards entering MRFs from domestic kerbside collections and a reduction in volumes from commercial and industrial sources.
Mr Ellin said: “Virtually overnight commercial and industrial sources of fibre shut: your Argos’s, your Debenhams, all the major commercial outlets for material. This was across the globe, but the particular effect for the UK was in Europe.”
Mr Ellin said that, having locked down earlier than the UK, countries such as Italy, Spain and Germany had a shortage of paper for packaging. He said that at points it almost became a “name your price” situation for paper recyclers based in the UK.
Mr Ellin was speaking at the virtual MRF & Markets Conference 2020, organised by letsrecycle.com.
Mr Ellin noted the pandemic had changed consumer habits in other ways, leading to changes to the composition of waste entering MRFs.
The circulation of newspapers was down by 20 to 30% as a result of Covid-19, he said. Fears about the risk of infection have also seen the distribution of free newspapers cease. Mr Ellin said he was unsure whether the level of circulation would return to where it was prior to the coronavirus.
And, Mr Ellin noted that eggs were in huge demand throughout the pandemic, as more people took up home baking. This led to a switch from cardboard to plastic egg boxes at one point, as manufacturers were unable to keep up with demand.
Another to speak at the conference was Tim Gent, director of glass recycling company Recresco.
He said the pandemic had also had a profound impact on the glass recycling sector, which saw an increase in volumes collected throughout the lockdown.
Mr Gent attributed the increase to people drinking more alcohol at home. “One of the things that we’ve noticed in glass is that the most important thing to consider is that we put alcohol in it,” he said.
“Because of that, we’ve done very well during lockdown. We’ve consumed alcohol at quite shocking levels, so we saw a tidal wave of raw materials coming through. As far as markets are concerned, we’re doing pretty well.”