The British Plastics Federation (BPF) and plastics recyclers have expressed concerns over increasing amounts of low quality mixed-plastics material piling up in UK facilities as result of China’s import crackdown.
Stricter Chinese customs controls under the so-called Operation Green Fence, which began in February, have been putting the UK waste export system under pressure, as China has traditionally been the main destination of UK waste materials.
Recent PRN/PERN figures published by the Environment Agency seemed to indicate that after a significant drop in March, the export of plastic materials grew again between April and June suggesting that alternative destinations have been found.
However, industry insiders told MRW that while sorted, shredded and washed plastics was still being exported to China, low quality materials remained stockpiled in UK sites.
“There’s a lot of low grade plastics sitting around,” said one. “People are sitting on it hoping that the Chinese market will open-up again, but there is a high likelihood that it won’t.”
Other plastics export destinations such as Indonesia and India also were also unwilling to buy low quality materials, he added.
Another said: “We can’t move any low quality grade… Nothing opened-up, we are stuck with it.”
He added that no viable new end-markets for the materials have been found, nor seemed to be in sight for the near future, with the problem “waiting to get bigger and bigger”.
A build-up of waste materials in the supply chain was also mentioned by the BPF in a letter to its members.
The federation urged them to ensure updated fire risk assessments were carried-out in light of the several episodes of fire accidents at recycling facilities in recent months.
Media reports suggested that the Chinese crackdown on the import of low quality materials was having a similar impact on the US plastics recycling industry.