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Comment on China’s ban on importing waste

by Bernard Chase, Purchasing Manager at LINPAC Recycling
China's recent ban on importing mixed plastics comes as no great surprise. In the year of the Beijing Olympics, China does not wish to be perceived as the world's dustbin. But this isn't the whole story. China remains desperate for supplies of both recycled and virgin raw materials and has so far been accepting any quality it can get its hands on. Now, however, it appears they are looking to improve the quality of materials they buy in. As their industry grows, China is looking to ensure that it has the best materials to support it.Imports of dirty, contaminated waste will therefore be gradually replaced with cleaner processed materials; properly sorted and cleaned.So what does this mean for the UK? Far from being a problem, this change of emphasis towards quality could provide a springboard for British waste management and recycling companies.Sending waste thousands of miles away to be recycled has never been a long-term sustainable solution for the UK's waste materials. It has simply been a short-term economic expedient. Local Authorities have targets to reduce landfill and promote recycling. Material Recycling Facilities (MRFs) have responded to these by maximising throughput with little or no regard to output quality so long as China has been willing to pay for co-mingled waste.The focus hasn't been on ensuring the quality of materials sent for recycling merely on maximising the amount of co-mingled waste being collected. In the light of China's latest pronouncements, a fresh approach by both the Government and Local Authorities alike to the way we 'recycle' our waste is now called for.Rather than maximising throughput, the UK needs to encourage a robust recycling process with the emphasis on quality rather than quantity. Keeping green bin collections segregated and as clean as possible will improve the quality of all recyclable materials. This will generate greater values for MRFs as recycling companies can produce high-grade materials creating a more sustainable revenue stream. This in turn could feed back to local authorities and maybe even the taxpayer!Better quality product made from recycled materials will strengthen the industry and ensure less virgin materials are used. Householders will have greater confidence in their local authorities knowing that their carefully segregated dry recyclables are not just co-mingled again prior to export.
China will remain hungry for raw materials as its industrial expansion grows. Rather than continue to send low value co-mingled waste, the UK should seek to improve its quality and value significantly. By offering clean sorted recyclables to the market, the UK can greatly increase the value it receives for its recycled bottles, paper, cans and glass.There should be no reason then why the UK cannot go one stage further and process these materials at home. This will strengthen the UK's recycling industry providing quality products that can be sold across Europe, let alone across the world in China.China doesn't want dirty, scruffy, low quality waste any more than we do in the UK. By minimising the amount of material that ends up as un-recyclable, we will be reducing waste disposal in landfill and strengthening the UK's recycling industry.This can only happen if Government works together with local authorities, MRFs and material re-processors to develop a coherent, national strategy for collecting recyclable materials. Investment must focus on improving the quality of collection schemes. Through the guarantee of sustainable sources of clean segregated recyclable materials, re-processors will in turn feel confident to expand their operations to handle more of the UK's discarded materials themselves.About LINPAC Recycling LINPAC Recycling is the UK's leading recycler of post-use rigid plastics, recycling more than 32,000 tonnes of material each year, which is. It was originally formed in 1991 to recycle post-consumer polystyrene products; today the plant is highly proficient in recycling a wide range of rigid plastics.LINPAC Recycling provides recycling for polystyrene, polyethylene and polypropylene from both industrial and post-use sources. They also supply specified recycled compounds for use in blue chip applications. Key market sectors including packaging, automotive, horticulture and construction are just a few of the industries that are adopting and benefiting from using recycled plastics.

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