China’s ban on the import of foreign plastic scrap from early next year has threatened the recycling industry in the UK.
China intends to stop the import on grounds of its findings that revealed imported recycling material was contaminated with significant amounts of ‘dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes’.
Though the policies are still being finalised, it is expected that the rules will include stringent quality standards for the importation of industrial plastic scrap and a complete ban on waste from household recycling.
An analysis of customs data carried out by Greenpeace UK’s investigative journalism unit Unearthed has revealed that since 2012, UK companies have transported more than 2.7Mt of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong.
This accounts for approximately two-thirds of the country’s total plastic scrap exports.
An estimation by waste charity Wrap shows that household plastic scrap sent to mainland China and Hong Kong account for approximately 25% of the total 790,000t of plastic wastes exported by the UK last year.
With the implementation of the ban, UK councils might be forced to stop collecting certain kinds of plastic wastes for recycling.
This could subsequently affect the country’s ability to meet its recycling targets.
To meet the challenges, waste companies are pursuing new export destinations, including India and south-east Asia, in addition to considering temporarily burying plastic scrap, incineration and landfill.
The companies are also considering ways to convert waste into jet fuel.
The ban is also expected to seriously affect exports of waste paper.