CHINA BAN AND THE IMPACT ON THE PLASTIC RECYCLING INDUSTRY

Blue Castle provide advice for plastic waste producers in the wake of China’s decision to not accept any further imported waste from 2 January 2018.

China's decision from 2 January 2018 to not accept any further imported waste is beginning to have reverberations across the UK's plastic recycling industry.

The news headlines are currently awash with reports from plastic recycling processors and council run recycling facilities that some lower grade plastics are beginning to stock pile and of the inevitability that these plastics will end up having to be disposed of at a cost via landfill tax or incineration.

The impact is that rather than being paid to recycle plastics, companies who produce plastic waste will find themselves paying significant fees to have plastic wasted collected.

At Blue Castle, we think China's ban could not have come at a worse time.

The 'let’s recycle more' message had really started to gain momentum across the globe.  News reports showing the build up of plastics in the world’s oceans and the effect of this on marine life has driven the launch of many new initiatives aimed at getting consumers to recycle more.

Campaigns have been launched to increase plastic recycling. These include an appeal to introduce a 'plastic bottle deposit return scheme’ as well as a campaign to encourage beach lovers to pick up three pieces of plastic and put them in a recycling bin.

Yet, it looks like these well intentioned initiatives will simply add to the misery for recyclers, as the simple fact is that we produce more plastic than we can process!

As we write, there seems to be no quick fix solution because the UK, indeed the world, has to find alternative ways to dispose of the plastic waste we produce.

Sending waste to Malaysia and Vietnam has been voiced as one alternative, but as Britain previously shipped around two thirds of its used plastics to China for recycling - about 500,000 tons - it is readily accepted that even this will not be enough.

We have relied on exporting plastics for recycling to China for 20 years and it would appear that people, even industry experts, do not know what is going to happen. In 2016, China processed 7.3 million tons of plastic waste - half the world's recycled plastics!

It is therefore clear that there is no simple solution. On the back of the drop in crude oil prices, which badly damaged the demand for recycled plastic, this decision by China is a further hammer blow to the recycling industry.

Short term, businesses that produce plastic waste must brace themselves for an increase in their costs. They must also be aware of the plastics grades and those that are in demand.  As a result, we may also see retailers push back to their supply chain and demand that products are shipped or packaged using less plastic as a means of reducing their landfill charges.

Meanwhile the recycling industry must look urgently at developing new ways to process plastic, and manufacturers and packaging designers must also devise ways to reduce the amount of plastic that is used.