Soon exporting our waste plastic to the Far East may no longer be an option. The Chinese government has recently submitted proposals to ban the import of unwashed post-consumer plastics, coming months after they placed a 70% domestic plastic recycling goal for 2015.
This is hardly surprising, as the Chinese growth phenomenon is stalling due to recession across the Western economies. They will not allow this to happen and will promote internal investment, increasing domestic consumption and creating more of their own packaging resource.
It is inevitable that China will eventually turn off the tap to UK waste imports, so we must ensure that we are not left stranded with vast amounts of plastic waste which we cannot recycle.
The challenge is to focus on channelling investment into our own supply chain to develop a robust infrastructure, capable of processing all of our waste domestically. However, this shift will only happen when two key legislative changes are introduced.
First, the Packaging Recovery Notes (PRN) must be revised. Reprocessors can only claim a PRN once the plastic has been through the wash phase, when around 50% of feedstock has been lost. The exporter, however, can claim Package Export Recovery Notes (PERN) for 100% of its feedstock by bundling all the post-consumer waste together and shipping it abroad.
The system encourages the export of our plastic resource instead of re-circulating it back into the domestic market. Revenue from PRNs and PERNs must be utilised exclusively for inward investment in reprocessing technology or for consumer education programmes, in an effort to increase quality in our waste stream.
We must also ensure that the forthcoming MRF Code of Practice is made mandatory to tackle the ongoing drop in quality of the UK’s waste stream, providing the industry with the returns that it needs to develop new infrastructure.
Jonathan Short, managing director of ECO Plastics Ltd