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Chinese crackdown to add pressure on UK recycling

The chair of the Environment Agency (EA) has praised the law-abiding majority of businesses in the waste sector but warned of the growing domestic pressures if the new Chinese crackdown on imports leads to a widespread ban by 2019.

Emma howard boyd

Emma howard boyd

Almost a year to the day after being confirmed in the head role, Emma Howard Boyd (pictured) gave a keynote speech on the first day of RWM about the industry’s ’Right Waste, Right Place’ campaign.

She set out the extent of the problem, saying that, between April and July, agency officials were closing three illegal waste sites in the UK every day.

“That’s the scale of the challenge and I am proud of our staff. That work rate gives you an idea of how much we are having to do,” she said. “The pressures show no sign of relenting.”

Boyd referred to China’s Operation National Sword which is increasingly tightening up on secondary materials accepted into Chinese ports. Twenty-four grades including mixed papers will no longer be permitted from the end of the year, a move that is already affecting UK exports.

“From 2019, imports of solid wastes to China will be stopped where they can be replaced with domestic material,” she said. “This could lead to poorer quality waste being stockpiled in the UK.”

Boyd suggested the changes brought about by China’s policies could lead to an increase in waste crime at home.

The EA is working with Defra to identify opportunities to increase UK recycling if the Chinese market shrinks as is expected, she said.

“These issues will require a lot of innovative thinking and you cannot expect all the ideas to come from the Government,” she said, urging co-operation and dialogue. 

A member of the audience noted discussions with the industry were taking place with the Environmental Services Association and chief executives of larger waste managers – but not the vast majority of the industry which was small and medium-sized businesses.

Boyd replied: “We’ve got to start somewhere. We know the larger companies are working with the smaller companies too, so it is something we have kicked off. Watch this space in terms of how we continue to engage with smaller businesses.”

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