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Blame game starts over paper export quality

The paper recycling sector has launched a scathing attack on the waste management industry as thousands of tonnes of exported paper remained stranded in quarantine in China following a crackdown in the country on contaminated material.  

Paul Briggs, managing director of Mark Lyndon Paper UK, first drew attention to the clampdown in MRW last week. He said the problems in China were caused mainly by UK MRFs.

A senior manager with a leading exporter said: “There is a general concern in the market about quality being produced by the MRFs.”

The Confederation of Paper Industries’ head of recycling Stuart Pohler told MRW the Chinese clampdown undermined the UK waste management industry’s “mantra of scant evidence of pressure from export markets for higher quality material”.

He said it was evidence that, in many cases, MRF output material failed to meet necessary quality standards and “shows little improvement”.

But materials recovery policy adviser at the Environmental Services Association David Sher defended the industry, saying: “In WRAP’s 2011 survey of Chinese reprocessors, the quality of UK material bench-marked reasonably well against that of other countries.”

And Viridor Resource Management director Herman van der Meij rejected the suggestion that the problem was caused predominantly by the UK industry.

“Responsible and sustain-able businesses already have strict quality controls throughout the system, from inputs and outputs of MRFs and, importantly, checking procedures on traders of the commodities,” he said.

While some exporters await news on quarantined containers, Briggs accused other, unscrupulous traders of diverting rejected material to third countries rather than bringing it back to the UK. He said the UK should get used to the new regime, said to be part of China’s drive to improve environmental standards.

Briggs rejected suggestions that the clampdown was solely down to market conditions and a way for Chinese mills to reject unwanted material. He said the clampdown was being directed by the Government and senior customs officials: “This is a legal clampdown - the pressure is not coming from the mills.”

An industry source said that the waste management industry had to realise “there is not an ‘export grade’ and a ‘domestic grade’ - there needs to be a global standard”.

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