Most recycled paper comes as used packaging from retailers and others and once-read newspapers and magazines. The high percentage content of recycled paper in newsprint has been achieved through voluntary agreements. The UK government has set targets of 70% recycling to be achieved for direct mail and magazines by 2013. In 1998 the UK imported 60% of its annual paper requirement. This was 7.4 million tonnes of paper from overseas, with major paper suppliers being Finland and Sweden.
The UK's preferred option for waste paper is recycling; although this approach is less optimal, and has been subject to some criticism by industry lobby groups following a collapse in prices. The UK lacks the capacity to handle the rising amount of paper being recovered for recycling, and depends on export for paper processing. About 8.6m tonnes of paper and board are collected for recycling every year, but UK paper makers can only handle 4m tonnes, resulting in dependence on export markets, primarily the Far East and Europe, to take the remainder. Far Eastern buyers had been taking 3m tonnes but have backed away, triggering a price collapse in some paper grades. High prices have seen local authorities and commercial organisations such as supermarkets and printers generating cash by selling paper and packaging for recycling, but they face this income being reduced. It is likely that storage of paper for recycling will increase in the short term with a consequent rise in costs to local authorities and other collection organisations requiring storage.