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A balanced view

Recently, there has been much discussion in the national and trade press about plastic bottles being sent overseas, specifically to Asia, for recycling. The media approach to this has, in the main, been poorly balanced and disproportionate. At best it fails to distinguish between the legitimate, environmentally-justifiable global trade in raw materials and genuine areas of specific concern. At worst it has actively fuelled headlines that misinform the public and unfairly undermine confidence in beneficial recycling initiatives.
The latest data for plastic packaging recycling has recently been published by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs and shows that in the first nine months of 2004, 47% of all plastic packaging collected in the UK was exported for recycling. In the last quarter, just over half of UK plastic packaging collected for recycling was recycled outside the UK. The role of the export market for plastics has grown massively over the last five years and is under increasing scrutiny.
Recoup, through its trading business Recoup Services, sells bottles to UK, European and Asian recyclers. Currently, a significant proportion of bottles are sold to the Asian markets via accredited routes. The proportion of sales in the future will depend on the pricing, terms and sustainability offered by recyclers - wherever they are based. We expect Asia to remain a highly competitive market for plastic bottles in the future.
In general, China has very high demand for plastics due to its total plastics consumption of over 50 million tonnes per annum. Shipment costs are relatively low due to it being a net exporter to Europe and operating costs in China are very low compared to equivalent operations in Western Europe. The reasons the recyclable raw materials are going to China are similar to the reasons that manufacturing (and increasingly service) industries are shifting to Asia.
The fact that there is greater market capacity and choice, and higher prices paid is good news for plastics recycling and the environment. It stimulates increased collection volumes and greater confidence in markets. More councils can afford to operate schemes or extend their services. Councils have a wider choice of outlets and can send material to UK or international buyers, based on price and other priorities.
The plastic bottles sold to recyclers - be they in the UK, mainland Europe or Asia - are valuable raw materials often commanding prices of over £100 per tonne. The fact that prices are so strong represents the demand and value of plastic bottles - buyers don't pay for rubbish that they cannot use to manufacture new saleable products and will reject loads that have excessive contamination.
Suppliers should verify that the companies they sell to have appropriate accreditations and can investigate the companies ability to track material shipments. Companies accredited by the Environment Agency (EA) or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) as exporters of plastic packaging have to provide traceability, logs and sampling protocols, which are open to audit by the relevant agencies.
We wish to encourage good standards of practice and do so by insisting on traceability and evidence of recycling activities. Our knowledge is that inspections of many plastics recycling operations in China, for example by SEPA and by a variety of European agencies, have demonstrated reasonable standards of operation. As in any country, operational practices and impacts occur on a site-by-site basis and are the result of equipment, services and management. In other words

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