Ray Georgeson, chief executive of the reprocessing trade body, the Resource Association, has called on the UK government to ‘get on a plane to Beijing’ and to lobby the Chinese government to relax proposed tighter import controls on waste materials.
Mr Georgeson made the plea during his presentation at the Kent Resource Partnership annual conference in Canterbury last week (22 September).
Referring to a reported crackdown on the quality of waste material approved for import by the Chinese government in recent months, Mr Georgeson said: “We are told it is for real this time.”
In July, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (CMEP) launched a consultation on tightening import controls for materials such as waste paper, plastics and scrap metal as part of its work to improve the environment.
This included a proposed limit on the permitted level of material contamination in a load to just 0.3% of the overall volume for some materials.
“They are tightening their demands down to levels that the supply chain says they just cannot meet. A 0.3% contamination level is pretty much close to impossible to achieve, and 1 to 1.5% is thought to be ok,” Mr Georgeson said.
“I know Defra have had the industry in for some representation and dialogue. From my perspective and those of other associations there is an urgent need for the UK government to get on the plane to Beijing take a delegation to China and start negotiating.
“Don’t underestimate the seriousness of the Chinese situation. But it ought to be solvable with some serious diplomatic intervention.”
The Resource Association chief executive also stressed that he would like to see this negotiation done “hand-in-hand with more work on how we can revive and rejuvenate UK manufacturing capacity using recyclate.”
Speaking on the implications of Britain’s exit from the European Union, Mr Georgeson said: “There is no hiding the fact that there is uncertainty for industry.”
He also expressed his concern on the dependence of the recycling and waste sector on non-UK EU migrant labour in collection and sorting operations.
Mr Georgeson referred to his own experience of being a non-executive director of Bryson Recycling in Belfast.
“That business would grind to a halt if it didn’t have a Polish workforce on the MRF and in the vehicles. You will see it in other parts of our industry and in other industries as well.
“I would suggest it’s something this industry has to take a little more seriously. It’s not a pro or anti Brexit argument, it’s an exposition of an economic reality of what may happen.
“If there are restrictions on movement of labour, it will have a significant impact on the sector, be in no doubt of that.”