Marcus Gover, chief executive of the resources charity WRAP, has called for a “collaborative” approach in response to concerns over tighter import controls on waste materials to China.
The comments came in a letter responding to a demand for the charity to take action, which was issued jointly by the Confederation of Paper Industries, Resource Association, the Recycling Association and Environmental Services Association last month (see letsrecycle.com story).
Concerns were raised by the groups as the Chinese Government has sought to tighten import controls for materials such as waste paper, plastics and scrap metal as part of its work to improve the environment.
The trade bodies called for urgent action from the UK government, as well as work by WRAP on “recycling market development” to ease concerns among recycling businesses.
Responding to the comments, Mr Gover said that recycling and waste firms should focus on producing quality material as well as suggesting phasing out mixed paper grades.
Mr Gover’s letter said that WRAP would be “delighted” to convene a round table to bring together key players to “identify common solutions” and develop a shared action plan.
The chief executive’s letter began by stressing that “the waste sector needs to recognise that improving the quality of recycled materials is “critical to continued growth” and “success” of the recycling supply chain. And, he said that quality recovered materials will continue to find markets.
But Mr Gover emphasised that other countries will compete with the UK for supply of quality secondary commodities and that the UK will need to produce high quality materials to “compete effectively in the future”.
In response to the proposed contamination levels for paper exports to China, Mr Gover said that the UK is “currently nowhere near meeting this stringent standard, and it may only be possible to do so with paper that is collected separately”.
“With China taking 75% of our total recovered paper exports we have to question whether single stream commingled collections are fit for the future,” he wrote.
Responding to the potential for China to stop taking mixed papers for recycling, Mr Gover wrote: “This may mean that we need to change the way we collect and/or sort paper for recycling – separating newspapers from packaging more effectively in the UK.”
On the plastics front, he said that the main challenge lies with PET trays, PS and PVC, as the markets for these are very limited. To address this, Mr Gover said that the industry needs to rationalise the polymers used in packaging to HDPE/PET bottles and PP pots, tubs and trays.
Mr Gover added that the China situation makes WRAP’s work on designing packaging that is more recyclable “more urgent”.
He highlighted that WRAP is also promoting the opportunity to use more recycled material directly in the manufacture of plastic packaging.
Mr Gover concluded his letter saying: “I will leave Defra to reply concerning policy measures, but I am sure that their thinking about this will feed into the new Resources and Waste Strategy announced by the Secretary of State in July.”
He also mentioned that measures around moving away from simplistic weight-based targets, options for extended producer responsibility and Deposit Return Schemes could contribute to increasing quality.