Why the UK faces a waste crisis

28th November 2018 | Recycling

The UK is facing a plastic pollution crisis amid falling recycling rates and a growing backlog of waste after China stopped importing much of it and disposing it on our behalf, experts warned yesterday. UK households are among the biggest users of throwaway plastic in Europe – while austerity cuts are exacerbating the waste problem by pushing down the amount that is recycled in some councils, they said.

Speaking at the British Science Association’s annual Huxley Summit in London, Mary Creagh MP said strains to local council budgets had pushed plastic waste way down their list of concerns. This has left less money to invest in waste management and infrastructure which means recycling rates have remained flat and, in some councils even fallen in recent years, she said.

Waste crisis

“We have seen that recycling has plateaued and, in some cases tailed off and gone backwards over the last three or four years because local authorities have their direct rates of revenue cut by 50 per cent,” said Ms Creagh, chair of the cross-party Environment Audit Committee. In and environment where you’re cutting parks, libraries and leisure facilities, you’re not then saying ’hey, we’ve got a new anaerobic digestion system – here are the things you should be recycling’. The money for innovations and capital expenditure just isn’t there in our recycling system,” she added.

Furthermore, China’s ban on waste plastic imports this year is storing up problems for the future, she said. “What we cannot keep doing is sending it away to Malaysia and Vietnam now that China’s closed its door. This stuff is going to start piling up sooner or later in our country,” she added.

The problem is further compounded by the UK’s reliance on throwaway plastic.

“Our British consumer uses four times as much plastic uses four times as much plastic as the best in Europe, Sweden and Norway. So we do need to think about over consumption,” said Judy Proctor, plastic strategy lead at the Environment Agency.

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