China plastic ban sparks UK alarm
The UK sends almost two-thirds of its waste to China, with companies shipping a quarter, or more than 2.7 million tonnes, of plastic waste to the Asian giant since 2012.
Plastic is often reused by China’s vast manufacturing sector and melted down to make children’s toys or computers and other electrical appliances.
China’s manufacturing dominance means that for years it has been the world’s largest importer of recyclable materials.
But it is set to block further imports of recyclable waste from January, including mixed paper, plastic bottles and 24 types of solid waste. And Beijing says much of the waste it imports from Europe is too dangerous to recycle.
Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, said: “We have been warning the government for quite a long time that China will at some point say ‘enough is enough. We don’t want the world’s garbage. We want to stimulate our own internal collection.’ We have seen it coming.”
The UK’s environment minister Michael Gove has admitted that he did not know what the impact would be.
“It’s … something to which – I will be completely honest – I have not given sufficient thought,” the pro-Brexit campaigner told MPs.
In 2016 the UK exported 790,000 tonnes of scrap plastic with 55 per cent going to China or Hong Kong.
Environmental groups say it is time for a life-style change.
“Instead of confronting our growing problem with throwaway plastic at home, we have been shipping it off to places like China where it’s easier for us to ignore,” said Elena Polisano of Greenpeace UK.
“Now that China has decided they’ve had enough of our waste, it’s obvious that the UK’s recycling system simply can’t cope with the mountain of plastic waste we generate.”
The ban could force municipal authorities to stop collecting plastic, while waste contractors are considering incineration and burying recyclable plastic in landfill.
Councils might also cut back waste collections because they are not economically viable.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We are continuing to work with the waste industry and the Environment Agency to understand the impact across the sector of the Chinese government’s proposed restrictions on waste imports.
“We are also looking at ways to process more of our recycling at home as part of our resources and waste strategy.”
Europe has not sufficiently addressed plastic consumption. Picture credit: Flickr