China’s ban on imported plastic leads to “impending crisis” for waste recycling

7th December 2017 | Recycling

China’s ban on imported plastic puts the UK at risk of environmental pollution owing to the recycling industry’s lack of capacity, according to an investigation by Greenpeace UK. The UK exports almost two-thirds of its total waste to China, with UK businesses shipping more than 2.7 million tons of plastic waste there and to Hong Kong since 2012.

China will stop imports of recyclable waste from early next year, including mixed paper, plastic bottles and 24 types of solid waste, saying much of the waste it imports from the UK and other countries is too hazardous to recycle.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove recently admitted he didn’t know what the impact of the decision will be. “It’s something to which – I will be completely hones – I have not given sufficient thought,” he told MPs.


“Instead of confronting our growing problem with throwaway plastic at home, we have been shipping it off to places like China where it’s easier for us to ignore,” said Elena Polisano, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK.


“Now that China has decided they’ve had enough of our waste, it’s obvious that the UK’s recycling system simply can’t cope with the mountain of plastic waste we generate.”

The ban could force councils up and down the UK to stop collecting some plastic, while waste companies are considering incineration and burying recyclable plastic waste in landfill sites. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in this,” Adam Read, external affairs director at waste management company Suez, told Greenpeace UK.

According to Mr Read, the lack of clear strategy and capacity in the national recycling industry, combined with uncertainty caused by Brexit and the new China ban, could cause serious problems in the UK. “I think there’s an impending crisis,” he said.

Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, describe the ban as a “game change for the UK” with a potentially detrimental effect to the environment.

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