Higher standards for imports enforced by Chinese authorities have had limited impact on the quality of plastics recyclate in the UK, the British Plastics Federation has said, 18 months after the start of operation Green Fence.
Speaking on behalf of the federation’s Recycling Group, Jonathan Short, founder and deputy chairman of Eco Plastics, acknowledged that UK exports to China have decreased in the wake of China’s clampdown on the import of low quality recyclate, or Operation Green Fence, which was launched in February 2013.
However, he said that materials that do not comply with Chinese import requirements, such as unsorted, unwashed and unshredded plastics, are still being sent to China through “back doors” like Hong Kong, or via other countries like Vietnam or Cambodia.
“China is using some of the less developed and poorer neighbours to do the clean-up operations that they used to do in Southern China,” said Short. “That’s how the market has been reopened”.
Some low quality materials remain stockpiled in UK depots, he added, increasing the risk of fires at recycling facilities.
These factors have caused prices to fall “dramatically” in the past year, Short pointed out.
The price of mixed plastics bottles decreased from £175/tonne in January 2013 to £120/tonne in the same period this year, according to MRW prices.
However, Short said that a positive outcome of Operation Green Fence was that more funding has been mobilised in the UK to upgrade processing facilities.
“Funds that were not fully utilised last year became much better utilised because there is more tonnage available,” he said.
“That’s what we want as an industry, we want more reprocessing capacity here in the UK, which creates jobs and adds value to manufacturing within the green economy,” he added.