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What will China’s ban mean for the industry?

Earlier this year, China shocked the industry with the news that it planned to introduce tougher waste import controls, including a ban on 24 kinds of solid waste such as plastics , unsorted waste paper and waste textiles materials.

What came as even more of a shock was Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s nonplussed attitude saying he had “not given sufficient thought” to the reprecussions of China’s ban, which is due to commence on 1st January 2018.

Gove’s comments made at the Environmental Audit Committee where issues including Brexit and the environment were discussed. When asked what impact the Chinese ban might have in the UK’s waste economy and what preparations the government is making, Gove responded: “I don’t know what impact it will have. It’s a very good question and one to which, I will be completely honest, I have not given sufficient thought.”

At a time when the industry is looking to the government for leadership and to articulate a positive vision of the sector’s future, many of us were shocked to hear Gove’s response.

Indeed, Labour MP, Anna McMorrin asked whether the UK has enough capacity to process the extra material that will remain as a result of China’s ban. A very good question, given that in 2015 the UK exported more than 4.5 million tonnes of waste to China for recycling or recovery.

For many years, Europe’s waste management systems have been supporting and assisting treatment of low quality plastics waste in China which did not have the stringent quality regulations that Europe does. However, as of the start of 2018, it will be unlikely that the surplus will be totally absorbed into the EU as the quality regulations will not be met. This issue further highlights the need to implement a real and sustainable waste management market in Europe – and quickly.