Plastic recycling targets threatened by China ban

The Packaging and Films Association (PAFA) has warned that the UK ‘will fail even sooner than expected’ if China enforces proposed plastic import bans.

China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, Ministry of Commerce and National Development and Reform Commission announced last month that it was considering enforcing regulations that: prohibit the import of unwashed post-consumer plastic; ban any imported waste from being transferred to a company other than that stated on the import licence; and disallow the trade of unwashed plastic leftover from the sorting of imported plastic and paper. The move comes as part of a tightening of import measures to ensure the highest possible quality of plastics imports.

The announcement mirrored Malaysia’s move to ban all plastic waste from the EU, thought to be due to quality issues.

shipping containers

Speaking after China’s announcement, Barry Turner, PAFA CEO, warned that export bans from the Far East could mark the end of large-scale exportation of plastic waste from the UK and put added pressure on the UK plastic industry to meet “unrealistic” recycling targets.

Turner commented: “The new recycling targets, already heavily criticised as unrealistic due to the lack of adequate collection and recycling infrastructure, will fail even sooner than expected if these new developments in the Far East come about.

“This will require a significant investment in Europe to fill the size of the hole created which will require time to develop, but such moves would have a huge impact on the waste industry in the UK, especially when it comes to meeting plastic recycling targets set by Defra.

“With much of the 67 per cent of Britain’s plastic waste being exported to the Far East, particularly China, according to Defra statistics, and the UK already desperately short of plastic collection and recycling facilities, I believe reaching the target of 57 per cent by 2017 will be even more unrealistic and out of touch.”

PAFA has now called on Defra to ‘urgently rethink’ plastic recycling targets due to the changes that it maintains burden the plastic industry.

Turner concluded: “Last year, Defra was advised against this unachievable level of targets by its own advisory committee and now we are witnessing previously unforeseen moves in the Far East which will make them even more unattainable.

“There is no joined-up thinking on waste and recycling targets and it is clear that the burden of cost and responsibility is being forced on UK manufacturers and retailers at a time they can least afford it.”