The recycling community says it is recovering from a media kicking delivered when depressed world markets meant it was already down. Indeed, brand owners such as GlaxoSmithkline (GSK) said it would further increase its use of recycled packaging.
This time, the popular national press was targeting stockpiled waste, stored as overseas demand declined steeply, and presented as evidence of the failure of recycling. Prices of newsprint, for instance, fell by 75% in the final quarter of 2008.
In plastics, GSK has been using 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) in its Ribena bottles. Keith Marriage, director of packaging development at GSK Nutritional Healthcare, says: "We don't want to ditch our undertakings at the first hurdle."
GSK sources its rPET from Artenius in France, but aims to secure a second supplier in the first half of 2009, in line with its ambition to increase overall use of recycled content to 50%. "Let's say we keep Ribena at 100% - that would mean taking Lucozade up to around 30%," says Marriage.
At plastics recycler Closed Loop London, md Chris Dow says: "Currently, we're definitely paying less for our feedstock, but we're also getting less for what we sell." With prices for rPET up to 10% lower than virgin polymer, there is even more reason for brand owners to include recycled content, he argues.
Dow predicts that in two or three years' time, plastic bottle recycling in the UK will be "completely covered". But there is a risk of "loss of faith" on the part of local authorities and consumers, he claims.
Of recent media criticism, corrugated sector manager at the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) Andrew Barnetson, says: "The pictures we've seen are of poor quality waste, which comprises a small percentage of the total."
He admits that reductions in the UK's paper capacity have made the sector reliant on export. "We collect around 8.6Mt of paper, but have capacity to use just 4Mt," he says, but forecasts that new plants added in the coming years will see 1.2Mt added to this recycling total.