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Minister: China crackdown offers opportunity to boost recycling

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China’s crackdown on imported secondary materials is “a headache” but offers an opportunity for more recycling in the UK, environment minister Therese Coffey has said.

From 1 January China is planning to ban post-consumer plastics and mixed papers and restrict imports of recovered materials if they cannot meet a contamination level of 0.3%. There are fears this will damage UK recycling performance and potentially lead to stockpiling of unwanted materials in the UK, LGC’s sister title Materials Recycling World reports.

Speaking at an industry dinner in London Ms Coffey suggested that increasing landfill tax and other fiscal measures could keep waste from being “buried or burned”.

Her address came six days after a speech at the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee conference in Nottingham, in which China was not mentioned, and three weeks after being sent a letter from the Confederation of Paper Industries, Resource Association, Recycling Association and Environmental Services Association urging the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs to “take urgent action” to support the recycling industry.

The signatories are concerned that more restrictive quality standards mean a de facto ban on certain grades such as mixed papers and post-consumer plastics.

“I wasn’t surprised by trade press reports of a plea from some parts of the industry that I had to head to China to plead with the Chinese government to oppose their tightening of standards of imports,” the minister said.

“I still haven’t seen the letter, by the way, and I am sure civil servants are crafting some Rolls Royce response. But let me say here and now I recognise that this causes a headache but actually we should see this as an opportunity.

”The ban prompts the need for us to improve the quality of recycling here and to have greater capacity to recover and reuse those materials here in the UK.”

On landfill tax, Coffey said such policies which had driven huge amounts of waste into recycling and recovery no longer seem to be driving the change needed.

“While this is a matter for the Treasury, perhaps we do need to look at increasing landfill tax and consider other fiscal measures encouraging more waste to be recycled in preference to landfill and incineration,” she said.

“The secondary materials market does not always function in the most efficient way. We want products made with more recycled material and designed for efficient disassembly.”

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