Tougher Action Needed On Plastics In Face Of China Crack Down

The Resource Association is calling for leadership from the UK Government to stimulate secondary markets in the UK for plastic waste and increase producer responsibility for plastic products placed on the UK market as China moves to ban the import of foreign plastic recyclate.

Announced in July, the Chinese Government adopted restrictions on 24 grades of solid waste on 1 January, with the restrictions set to fully enter into force on 1 March 2018.

A total ban has been placed on unsorted mixed papers and post-consumer plastics, while a range of other materials must not exceed a contamination level of 0.5% in order to be allowed into the country.

The cost of contamination to UK reprocessors is significant. The Resource Association estimates an annual cost of £51m (£15.67 per tonne) is associated with the management of poor and inconsistent quality recyclate by its reprocessor members.

The Resource Association says the new Chinese restrictions will have a “serious impact” on the UK recycling supply chain.

“The time has come for Defra and WRAP to once again assume a leadership role on this aspect of resources policy. If government chooses to engage, research and act, the industry will respond.”

It says it’s China’s “prerogative” to take steps to protect its environment and public health, the legal and compliant export of recyclate must retain its place in how the UK deals with its recyclable waste materials until the capacity is in place to handle it domestically.

“As China says ‘enough’, we must now use this moment to seize the opportunity it should present to rebalance the UK recycling economy and return to the unfinished tasks of developing our own markets and sustainable end uses for our secondary materials,” said Resource Association Chief Executive Ray Georgeson said.

“By definition, this will not solve the short-term challenges that need different interventions, but as Defra revisits its Resources and Waste Strategy and Secretary of State Michael Gove expresses the need for the ‘reshoring of our dirt’, an action plan for secondary resources is essential.”

The Association believes the most reasoned response to the Chinese restrictions would be to improve the quality of UK recyclate and supporting its use in UK manufacturing wherever possible. The balance of responsibility for plastic products placed on the market must also shift towards producers, through design for recyclability and minimum recycled content.

Ray Georgeson added: “Michael Gove has already started down this route with his ‘four point plan’ for plastics he outlined just before Christmas and we encourage him to continue to be bold and radical. A whole ‘circular resource economy’ approach that tackles collection, material handling, reprocessing, production, retailing and consumer behaviour would help deliver the benefits of smarter use and better recycling of plastics in the UK as well as send the right signals in support of taking responsibility again for the resources we use.”

“The time has come for Defra and WRAP to once again assume a leadership role on this aspect of resources policy. If government chooses to engage, research and act, the industry will respond.”

A more interventionist regulatory approach is legitimate in this area of public policy and should include the following:

  • Mandatory recycled content for various plastic products, taking account of environmental benefits and food safety considerations;
  • A new programme of R&D and enhanced tax credits support for investment in manufacturing technology to support the use of recyclate as a primary input;
  • Mandatory design guidelines for plastic packaging products sold on the UK market;
  • Action through trading standards to ban certain single-use plastic products; and
  • Introduce reforms to producer responsibility that include incentives for the use of recycled content with levies on non-recyclable products, with any funds generated used for new communications and collections action.

According to reports in the Daily Mail, Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to introduce a tax on single-use plastics.

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