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Exports of recyclable material for reprocessing are largely accepted as being an essential part of the recycling mix, with the UK collecting vastly more recyclable material than it is able to handle domestically. Indeed, it is widely acknowledged that the UK would have struggled to grow its recycling rate from the low level recorded over a decade ago to its current rate without easy access to international processing facilities.
Common destinations for material such as paper, plastic, glass and metals include regions such as Central and Eastern Europe, the United States, India and Pakistan and destinations in the Far East including China, Malaysia and Hong Kong. China, which has grown to become one of the world’s strongest manufacturing economies in recent decades, has become the largest destination for recovered material from the UK.
One criticism of the export market has traditionally been that it is only an outlet for poor quality material which would not be suitable for UK reprocessors. But, exporters are reporting that end users are increasingly seeking a higher quality feedstock, while environmental authorities both in the UK and overseas are cracking down on contamination levels in exports.
Most notably, in early 2013 the Chinese authorities launched ‘Operation Green Fence’ in a bid to reduce the amount of contaminated and poor quality waste material being exported into the country. As a result, importers into the region have demanded a higher quality of material for processing and checking of consignments have been more rigorous at ports.