Recycling chaos for coun­cils as Chi­nese ban Bri­tish rub­bish

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Henry Bod­kin

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.

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