Defra hosts China recycling exports meeting

A meeting is being held today (September 14) at the offices of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as part of a government bid to find out more about the concerns over export restrictions to China.

And, the Environment Agency has indicated that the work will include looking at ways to support “an increase in UK recycling capacity”.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency

The meeting will be attended by a number of trade associations as well as representatives from companies with interests in the export market. The sectors represented will include waste paper, plastics and scrap metal.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, giving the main address at the RWM exhibition in Birmingham yesterday.

Concerns centre around measures proposed by China which will set restrictions for the volume of contaminants or contrary materials within ‘solid waste’ sent for recycling. A limit of 0.3% has been proposed for some materials and China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection is currently consulting on a new GB Standard for exports which will take into account the new measures.


Giving the main address to the RWM exhibition in Birmingham yesterday, Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, covered a range of topics including China.

She said that the Agency’s understanding of the “new waste campaign” in China, “is that from the end of 2017, the import of 24 wastes could potentially be completely banned. This would include different plastics, slag from steelmaking, and various types of waste wool and ash. From 2019, imports of solid wastes to China could be stopped where they can be replaced by domestic sources.”

Ms Howard Boyd continued: “This may lead to a downturn in the waste exports market and could lead to poorer quality waste streams being stockpiled or disposed of illegally in the UK. To deal with these potential scenarios, we are working with Defra to combine our joint understanding of priority waste flows, and to identify potential opportunities to support and increase in UK recycling capacity.”

There are a range of views as to what could happen in the wake of the Chinese limits on exports. Some in the paper sector expect mixed paper to have to be sorted carefully and some also consider that cardboard from some retail sources could also need extra checks. On the plastic from there is talk of a need for the amount of materials allowed to be stored under permits to be increased as UK firms look to install equipment and ramp up machines to carry out more shredding and granulation within the UK.


The last time such a move happened was in the recession 10 years and the Agency then allowed more storage by some companies to help cope with a glut of recyclables and a short-term fall in demand.

However, much may depend on what restrictions the Chinese authorities eventually impose and when. Officials from China are thought to be assessing sites in the UK to gain a better understanding of the materials sent for recycling.

Separately to the concerns over China, the Environment Agency chair also told her RWM audience of the work being down to crack down on waste crime. She said: “In 2015 to 2016, we stopped 989 illegal waste sites and stopped more than 50% of new illegal waste sites and stopped more than 50% of new illegal waste sites in less than 90 days. From April to July this year, we were closing down an average of three illegal waste sites every single day.

“I am proud of our staff for these successes, but that work rate should give you an idea of the scale of the challenge.”


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