Why does the UK send plastic waste abroad to be recycled?

29th May 2019 | Recycling

Malaysia is set to return 3,000 metric tonnes of non-recyclable plastic waste to its country of origin, Malaysia’s environment minister Yeo Bee Yin has said. Her announcement follows inspections at Malaysia’s main port, Port Klang, which found that 60 containers held un-recyclable or for recycling from countries including the US, the UK, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Australia.

“Garbage is traded under the pretext of recycling,” she said. “What the citizens of the UK believe that they sent for recycling is actually dumped in our country.”

Plastic Waste

Why is the UK’s plastic waste exported overseas?

Plastic waste can be sold for recycling and much of it is exported overseas because we do not currently have the means to process it all home. Plastic can only be recycled, however, if the waste if of good quality. If it is contaminated of “non-recyclable”, it cannot be recycled. A report by the National Audit Office last year raised concerns about the standards of recycling overseas and commented how the quality of plastic waste being exported might be affecting them. “There is a risk that some of it is not recycled under equivalent standards to the UK, and is instead sent to landfill or contributes to pollution,” the report read. “The export of contaminated or poor quality material increases these risks, and it is illegal to ship waste with significant levels of contamination.”

China was once the nucleus of the global recycling industry. However, in an effort to clean up its own environment, it banned plastic waste imports early last year. Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia assumed the mantle, but the sheer volume of waste arriving on their shores are overwhelming their recycling capabilities.

Contaminated plastic waste is that which has been mixed in with other waste, or mixed with other recyclable waste.

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