Defra’s resource minister has described China’s crackdown on imported secondary materials as “a headache”, but said it offers an opportunity for more recycling in the UK.
Therese Coffey, speaking at an industry dinner in London, also suggested that increasing Landfill Tax and other fiscal measures could keep waste from being “buried or burned”. She also sought the industry’s help in preventing criminals entering the waste sector.
Coffey was speaking to the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) to mark the inauguration of new president Professor David Wilson.
Her address came six days after a speech at the Larac conference in Nottingham, in which China was not mentioned, and three weeks after being sent a letter from the Confederation of Paper Industries, Resource Association, Recycling Association and Environmental Services Association urging Defra to “take urgent action” to support the recycling industry.
The signatories are concerned that more restrictive quality standards mean a de facto ban on certain grades such as mixed papers and post-consumer plastics.
“I wasn’t surprised by trade press reports of a plea from some parts of the industry that I had to head to China to plead with the Chinese government to oppose their tightening of standards of imports,” the minister said.
Perhaps we do need to look at increasing Landfill Tax and consider other fiscal measures
“I still haven’t seen the letter, by the way, and I am sure civil servants are crafting some Rolls Royce response. But let me say here and now I recognise that this causes a headache but actually we should see this as an opportunity.
”The ban prompts the need for us to improve the quality of recycling here and to have greater capacity to recover and reuse those materials here in the UK.”
On Landfill Tax, Coffey said such policies which had driven huge amounts of waste into recycling and recovery no longer seem to be driving the change needed.
“While this is a matter for the Treasury, perhaps we do need to look at increasing Landfill Tax and consider other fiscal measures encouraging more waste to be recycled in preference to landfill and incineration,” she said.
“The secondary materials market does not always function in the most efficient way. We want products made with more recycled material and designed for efficient disassembly.”
MRW has reported previously the minister’s scepticism of the ’circular economy’. In September 2016, she told the Environmental Audit Committee: “The words ‘circular economy’ to me are at risk of implying there is no growth. If we continue to grow, it doesn’t just need to be a closed loop… I am going to look into it more carefully.”
But she told the CIWM dinner that, while she admitted not liking the phrase, “the principles are absolutely spot-on”.
We need waste processors to up your game to help us up our game
On waste crime, the minster said she and environment secretary Michael Gove were keen to address the problem.
“I know there are too many cowboys and hard-core criminals in this industry.”
Coffey said Defra was working on proposals to help the Environment Agency tackle certain aspects of waste crime more effectively and she appealed for help from the industry in doing more to create barriers of entry.
She talked about recent Government initiatives such as the Clean Growth strategy and looked ahead to Defra’s 25-year environment plan (due this year) and the waste strategy (next year). But she said it was not only down to policy-makers to make change happen.
“Businesses must also take action to help us across the whole value chain. We need you, the waste processors, to up your game to help us up our game,” she said.