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China's recycling target is 'wake-up call' for UK

China’s ambitious plans to recycle 70% of major waste products within four years is a “wake-up call” for UK waste processors, according to key industry figures.

As reported by MRW, the official Xinhua News Agency announced the system would feature a complete waste collection network, advanced technologies, sorting and standard management. Major waste products include metal, paper, plastic, glass, tyres, cars and electronic devices.

Confederation of Paper Industries director general David Workman argued that the UK will have to improve its recyclate quality.

He said: “The implications for UK exporters are, in my view, potentially quite serious as the UK is often quoted as being one of the worst offenders when it come to supplying poor quality material.

“This move by the Chinese will dampen demand for imports and enable them to be more choosy about suppliers from other parts of the world. I believe that this will represent a significant ‘wake-up call’ for UK waste processors.

“If they want to keep their markets and sell at reasonable prices many waste processors will need to invest heavily and adopt and meet quality protocols, which in the case of paper means strict adherence to [quality standard] EN643.”

Workman added: “China is cash rich and with central command and control and lax planning laws it is quite conceivable that a recycling infrastructure could be in place within four years. Perhaps there are lessons for us here.”

However, others believe there may be benefits from the plan if it eases pressure on the European supply of some materials, particularly plastics. And as well as being a boost for the environment it could also offer opportunities for UK waste equipment companies.

British Plastics Federation public and industrial affairs director Philip Law said: “Increasing the professionalism of Chinese plastics recycling would mean that the true costs of the recycling operation would be better reflected and could be a step in the direction of a level playing field between UK and China.

Law argued that China recycling more of its own waste, could dampen demand from European sources and aid in the development of UK plastics recycling.

Packaging and Films Association chief executive Barry Turner said: “If the development of the market in China results in less dependency by the Chinese sector on the export of plastic waste from the European market that could be quite positive.

“Clearly the Chinese market will also be able to benefit from the evolution in sorting technology and plant design that has taken place in Europe which should enable them to yield enhanced efficiencies.”

David Sher, policy advisor to the UK’s Environmental Services Association, said: “It’s great to see these environmental ambitions accelerating in China. There are a huge number of positives for the UK waste and resources industry - recyclates will get increasingly entrenched in manufacturing supply chains across the world, and there is a stark opportunity for the export of not just materials, but technology and intellectual property too.”

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