Bale after bale of waste paper sits unwanted at a depot in the south of England.
It is a sight being repeated all over the country because the market for all the paper and card so carefully put aside by households has collapsed.
In fact, the country’s mountain of such waste, growing at a rate of 8,300 tons a week, is costing taxpayers millions of pounds because the private firms contracted by councils to collect and dispose of it are now charging them to store it.
Experts estimate that the 100,000-ton paper mountain could double in as little as three months, leaving councils with massive storage bills and little choice but to raise council tax.
Because it rots and attracts vermin if stored longer than three months, much of it may have to be incinerated or dumped in landfill instead of being sold on to paper mills
Before the market crashed, half of the ten million tons of recyclable household waste, including cans, glass and plastic as well as paper, produced each year was sold to China, but the credit crunch has hit demand – especially for paper.
The price of mixed paper and cardboard waste has dropped from about £70 a ton to £10 in the past six weeks.
None of Britain’s 80 paper mills is accepting new stock, at a time when the festive period generates millions of tons of extra rubbish.
Steve Bell, of Recycling UK, said: ‘I would imagine that there are about 100,000 tons of local authority waste still sitting in warehouses, but that could double by March.’
One of the firms contracted to collect kerbside recycling, Lancaster-based Envirofirst, is considering billing local authorities to store 3,000-4,000 tons of waste.
Another contractor, French-owned Veolia Environmental Services, which manages waste for more than 100 local authorities, has been forced to dump heaps of paper in the land around its plant in Rainham, Essex.
Local authority chiefs said it was essential that households continued to recycle.