Recycling chaos for councils as Chinese ban British rubbish
COUNCILS could refuse to recycle plastic and raise taxes because of a Chinese ban on imported recycled waste, experts have warned.
Decades of recycling progress in the UK was under threat as a result of the decision, which could see millions of tonnes of harmful plastic waste heading to landfill, officials claimed.
Britain sends around twothirds of its used plastic to the Far East, but in a drive against foreign waste China will no longer accept recycled plastics from March.
The Chinese government also announced increased quality standards for other rubbish such as cardboard, which would add to the councils’ recycling problem.
Local government representatives said the move would have a “major impact” on finances which in turn are likely to affect rates and bin collection services.
Councils make money by recycling, which offsets the cost of their operations. Either they sort the reusable material themselves and sell it to merchants, or, if not sorted, they can pay recycling contractors to take the waste for a smaller fee than traditional landfill or incinerator owners would charge.
While countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam accept plastics, their capacity will not account for the lost Chinese market.
Lee Marshall, of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, said: “It’s possible councils who were not already considering tax rises will now be considering that as a result of this.
“It’s likely that they will try to find the savings by cutting waste services.”
Householders who diligently sort out their plastic packaging and place it in the recycling bins every week are entitled to believe that their efforts are helping to save the planet. Yet the vast bulk of this waste is simply collected together and shipped abroad, mainly to China, where much of it is burned or buried. Analysis of customs data by Greenpeace shows that British companies have shipped more than 2.7 million tonnes of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong since 2012 – two thirds of the UK’S total waste plastic exports.
In short, the whole recycling mania is a fraud, and is about to have some serious consequences. From next month, the Chinese government is banning the import of plastic waste, presenting the UK with a massive environmental headache. The Government seems to have been caught on the hop, with Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, conceding that he had “not given it sufficient thought”.
But the failure to deal with this goes back a lot further than Mr Gove’s brief tenure in the department. Successive ministers have paid lip service to the recycling fetish while knowing that it was really a question of out of sight, out of mind. Millions of people recycle their waste because they believe good use is made of it, not knowing it will be shipped to landfill sites on the other side of the world.
More recycling facilities need to be built in the UK to deal with this waste, presenting a market opportunity for businesses. And, above all, food manufacturers and retailers need to stop packaging goods in almost impenetrable layers of plastic when they can just as easily be sold loosely. If the use of plastic can be significantly curbed, dealing with the waste becomes correspondingly easier.