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December 4 2017
China’s imminent ban on importing many types of foreign recyclable waste is presenting a number of countries – including the UK – with challenges over what will be done with the materials in question instead.
It is estimated that China imported approximately 7.3 million tonnes of discarded plastic from around the world in 2016, as well as 27 million tonnes of paper. As the world’s largest importer of such waste items, the upcoming ban (announced in July) will undoubtedly have a significant effect on the domestic recycling arrangements of nations throughout Europe, as well as the USA and elsewhere.
However, discussing the issue with the Environmental Audit Committee on 31 October, Therese Coffey (a minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ) argued that China’s decision represents an “opportunity” for the UK’s growing waste sector.
“It’s a good challenge to us, to our industry, to us as a country, to improve the quality of the waste we have” Coffey said, as reported by the BBC , adding that the situation “gives us an opportunity to reprocess more here, rather than exporting to the other side of the world just because it’s a bit cheaper to do so”.
Ms Coffey’s confidence was not universally shared among opposition MPs, however, with the committee chair – Labour’s Mary Creagh – noting that it will be difficult for the measures Ms Coffey proposed to be achieved at short notice: “Your warm words of encouragement are not going to be enough to encourage businesses, many of them multi-nationals, to invest in reprocessing here”.
Nevertheless, the hope is that all relevant stakeholders in the UK (local authorities, national government and waste processing businesses) will now work together to come up with innovative solutions to deal with the increased amounts of recyclable waste which may soon have to be dealt with domestically. As well as the possible environmental benefits, there is also optimism that this could lead to the creation of many more jobs in the waste sector .
Image Credit: Aine