By recycling materials, we reduce waste, save resources, and contribute to lower climate impact. But with only 13.5% of global waste being recycled and 40% of global plastic waste ending up in the environment with devastating consequences for us and our planet, it may be hard to believe in the merits of recycling.
The circumstances around recycling vary greatly across geographies, with different sets of challenges. Some middle and low-income countries, for example, lack waste management policy and infrastructure, and collection relies on an informal sector and waste pickers. Another challenge is the lack of sufficient and appropriate capacity to process materials. And, in a number of countries, current recycling technologies are limited in their ability to handle certain materials and produce new materials with required properties, such as food-grade plastics, to match the demand. This limitation reduces the economic viability of collecting and processing recyclable packaging.
To address the above challenges of recycling and scale up, a systems approach including all steps of the value chain is required. And so is greater industry collaboration. Three key factors need to be addressed simultaneously: expansion of waste management infrastructure for collection and recycling; innovation and best practice in recycling technology and processes; and investment in capacity.
On several fronts, signs can be seen of the increased focus and commitment to overcome challenges to scale up recycling of packaging. The EU has set the target that 65% of all packaging waste must be recycled by 31 December 2025. Commitments on recyclable packaging from multinationals have been signed, and industry collaboration platforms on collection and recycling have been established.
Recycling plays a critical role in addressing environmental issues, specifically with packaging waste, but it is not a solution on its own. It needs to be accompanied by efforts in upstream action when it comes to how packaging is designed – specifically, what materials are used. Design for recycling needs to be even further emphasised as new products are brought to market, to maximise the value of recycling, and use more recycled materials, without compromising food safety.
The combination of efforts from all actors in the value chain will make a difference. Recycling has an important role to play and we can all contribute.
 The World Bank, What a Waste: An Updated Look into the Future of Solid Waste Management