Whitham Mills Discusses The Effect Of Chinese Waste Import Regulations
From 1st January 2018, China has implemented momentous changes in the quality control and regulations placed on imported recyclable materials. How can collectors of UK exporters of recyclables bales soften the short-term impact of this?
Back in July 2017, China notified the World Trade Organisation of its intentions to ban 24 grades of plastic, textiles and paper imports stating that the quality of materials received has been contaminated, dirty and hazardous to their environment. In the past decade, China has also seen a substantial change in its domestic recycling market with an ambition to source recyclable material from its own growing middle-class consumers.
The chief executive of UK Recycling Association, Simon Ellin, in an interview with the BBC, stated that of UK recyclable materials, “55% of paper, [and over] 25% of plastics,” are currently exported to China. There are other export markets in Asian and Latin America that already will create more facilities for recycling plastics and paper material but there will be a large deficit of capacity for exports until new processing facilities come online.
So what does this mean for the UK exporters in the interim?
In the medium, the market expects new UK recycling facilities and East Asian facilities to develop and pick up the capacity gap. In the short term, once warehousing of recyclable bales become over-capacitated, incineration and landfill use will increase. The costs of this will have to be passed on to the consumer. However, this is not a positive alternative to recycling with the Environmental Secretary Michael Gove pushing for a greener approach. Either we either can landfill or burn our valuable commodities or, the UK cleans up its recyclables by removing contamination so that it can be exported. Some advocate approaching both sides waste separation with increased segregation at source through a nationwide recycling education program and, investment in separation technologies or end of line manual picking of contamination.
The leading waste handling equipment company, Whitham Mills, have been approached to consult on how mechanical systems and picking line interventions can create a quick solution to soften the short-term impact of the regulations. Managing Director, Ben Smart, has a positive outlook regarding this market adjustment and its impact on UK recycling:
“The UK will have to work harder to implement the education that improves waste segregation at source. Some in the waste separation equipment world might think of that as heretical but in reality, China is forcing an improvement in the base of UK waste separation. Separation equipment will still be required to clean materials up before baling for export.”
“Having a final manual pick after the automated line has separated the plastics, metals and papers products will further reduce contaminate materials. Clearer segregation at the first point of recycling will ensure the material adheres to the new quality standards set outlined in the Chinese waste import policy. UK material will be less contaminated and more valuable.”