Responding to a letter written to Resources Minister, Dr Thérèse Coffey, in September, from stakeholders in the waste sector, Marcus Gover said any response needs to consider two angles – quality and markets.
He said: “Following the global economic crisis of 2008, quality recovered materials continued to find markets. In this situation too, there will continue to be other potential markets for our materials, if we can raise our game.”
He said meeting a maximum contamination level of 0.3% for paper exports to China will be “very challenging with the systems we currently have in place”.
“Following the global economic crisis of 2008, quality recovered materials continued to find markets. In this situation too, there will continue to be other potential markets for our materials, if we can raise our game.”
China announced this year that it will put in place tighter waste import controls from the start of 2018; completely banning the import of mixed, unsorted paper and certain other materials, while also restricting the import of recycled materials to a maximum contamination level of 0.3%.
With China taking 75% of total recovered paper exports, the UK now has to question whether single stream commingled collections are fit for the future, Marcus says.
“We do now have advances in bin technology that mean a three-box system can occupy the same space as a single commingled recycling bin,” he said. “In this way, we can make it easier for citizens to separate materials for recycling.”
For mixed papers, the market outside China has been extremely limited, Marcus says, writing, “If China stops taking mixed papers for recycling, in effect the UK will need to phase out this grade.”
He said higher quality paper collected separately will continue to find markets in the UK, Europe and further afield (including China), however.
“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.”
For plastics, however, Marcus says the picture is “more complex”.
He wrote: “PET and HDPE plastic bottles already have very strong markets (for example, for food grade bottles, pipes, polyester fibres) and are high value products. If the quality is good and contamination low, they will be easy to sell. Similarly, PP pots, tubs and trays have good markets (for example, for construction and automotive products). The challenge is with PET trays, PS and PVC.
“The markets for these are very limited. To address this, we really need to rationalise the polymers we use in packaging to HDPE/PET bottles and PP pots, tubs and trays.”
The response follows a speech given by the resources minister, Dr Coffey, in which she said the ban was both a headache and an opportunity.