No reports of stockpiling of waste materials as a result of the restriction on exports of paper and plastics to China have been received so far, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Defra said today (5 January) that since China announced its intentions last year, it has worked with the Chinese Embassy, the Environment Agency, WRAP, the devolved administrations and representatives from local government to understand the potential impact of the ban and the action that needs to be taken.
The Department highlighted China’s decision to restrict imports of recycled paper and plastic as having a global impact.
Mix of markets
It notes that “In the UK we use a mix of our own domestic markets as well as those abroad, with China being our main export market. Alternative solutions to dealing with the waste in the short term, such as new markets, are being sought.
“While we recognise that China’s decision will cause some issues in the short term for recycling in the UK, and there may be concerns over the potential for materials to build-up, to date we have received no reports of waste ‘stockpiling’. We will continue to monitor China’s implementation of the restrictions as well as the impact in the UK.”
The Department explained that in the UK 3.7 million tonnes of plastic waste and 9.1 million tonnes of waste paper a year are created in the UK.
And, it said that of that total, “the UK exports 0.8 million tonnes of plastic to countries around the world, of which 0.4 million tonnes is sent to China (including Hong Kong). The UK also exports 3.7 million tonnes of paper waste to China (including Hong Kong)”.
Defra also pointed out that Germany, Japan and the US have larger challenges in terms of exports, particularly on the plastics front. Giving figures for exports, it states: “China’s decision has a global impact. As a comparison, other countries including Germany (0.6 million tonnes), Japan and the US (both 1.5 million tonnes) export more plastic to China for reprocessing than the UK.”
The statement from Defra on China has been reaffirmed by waste firms Suez and Viridor.
Suez said, in anticipation of restrictions placed upon inbound recyclable materials by the Chinese government, it had secured “alternative Asian and European markets” for its recyclable materials. And, the company reports, it has not directly exported any material to China since April 2017.
“Suez does not foresee any immediate risk of global market demand for recycled materials dropping sufficiently for recovery of energy, by incineration, to be a viable or attractive alternative to recycling and, in any event, clean target material, separated by consumers for recycling, will not, and should not, be treated in this way,” the company said.
“Our current advice to both our public and private sector clients, along with the consumers and householders we serve, is that everyone should continue to recycle as they always have until notified in the future either by their recycling and waste management firm or via their local authority.”
Viridor Resource Management managing director, Keith Trower, said the company had ceased its export of plastics to China last year and had identified “new Asian markets” for materials.
Viridor said it continues to explore new applications for recycled plastic and opportunities to enhance its polymers investment programme which currently includes a specialist plastics recycling facility in Kent and a processing plant in Skelmersdale.