A Chinese ban on plastic waste imports has created a looming crisis in the UK, with the pressure on to revolutionise the waste system and make producers more responsible for their waste.
In July last year, China announced that it intended to ban imports of 24 kinds of solid waste from 2018, including all post-consumer plastics, citing excessive pollution from “foreign garbage”.
UK recycling was heavily reliant on exports to China, which was the final destination for around half of the world’s plastic waste.
Although there are alternative destinations worldwide, there is not enough capacity elsewhere to make up the shortfall, which is estimated to be 350,000 tonnes in 2018 alone.
According to the UK Recycling Association, plastic waste is already starting to build up at UK sites.
The fear is that the price of exported waste could plummet and cause disposal prices at home to soar. In this scenario, recyclers could stop taking plastic waste from council collections altogether.
The pressure is now on to revolutionise the UK waste system with more emphasis on producer responsibility.
Environment secretary Michael Gove has previously stated that the UK’s long-term aim must be to “stop offshoring our dirt” by cutting the amount of plastic in circulation and the number of different plastics manufacturers can use.
Gove has already confirmed that a tax on single-use plastic packaging is being considered, while a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles is in the consultation stage and a ban on plastic microbeads has just come into law.
MPs on Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) have also called on government to “make producers financially responsible for the plastic packaging they produce”.
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of waste firm SUEZ, commented: “Those manufacturers who continue to consume virgin raw materials when recyclables are available should be penalised.
“Producers can currently produce cheap, unsustainable products, that are simply thrown away, while the consumer and environment picks up the disposal cost.”
Coca Cola, Amcor, Danone, MARS and Unilever are among the major companies that have already backed an action plan to increase the global recycling of plastic packaging by five times to current rate.
Meanwhile, Manchester-based recycling specialist Axiom Polymers - which has previously demonstrated the huge benefits of using recycled plastics in products - has launched a new “design for recycling” service to help UK producers make changes