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Export markets crucial to deal with rise in fibre packaging

Recycling Association (RA) chief executive Simon Ellin has raised concerns about a potential rise in the UK’s tonnage of fibre packaging waste due to a lack of investment in mills and difficulties in accessing export markets.

Ellin was commenting after a Eunomia report found that, unless action is taken, by 2030 the UK is set to have an extra 608,200 tonnes of packaging not being recycled.

The report found that the UK was currently fairly compliant with EU recycling regulations, with just 0.3% of packaging not being recycled, or 34,000 tonnes, against targets.

But if we carry on in the same way, it says that 5.3% of packaging will not be recycled by 2030, resulting in huge tonnages of materials going to waste.

Ellin said a “big concern” is where the extra new tonnage is going to go.

He said: “We are a 60% net exporter of fibre – approaching five million tonnes – and I cannot see any investment in new UK capacity.

“I am worried about a general demonisation of export per se because of alleged illegal exports of plastics which, although clearly wrong and needs stopping, everything should not be tarred with the same brush.”

Ellin argued that not all packaging materials should be treated in the same way: “Plastics are a bit different: I can see a better environment for UK processing with the plastics tax and improved qualities. New plastics capacity costs a fraction of the investment for a paper mill.”

But he added: “In the extended producer responsibility consultation, they are recommending a seven-day notification on all green list shipments. Why – what’s the net environmental risk of exported fibre?

“What is the risk of Chinese OCC with less than 0.5% non-fibre, which has been inspected six times before it enters the pulper? It will cripple the industry in an already perilously tight market.”

Ellin argued that, instead, the UK needed to be advertising itself to world markets as being “easy to deal with” and pointed to the RA’s ‘Quality First’ campaign.

He said: “Markets have to a large degree corrected illegal exporting opportunities anyway, with restrictions in China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Poland.”

On the high UK packaging tonnages projected to be lost to the recycling market unless action is taken, Eunomia’s report author Tanzir Chowdhury explained: “The reason the pure tonnages are so high is because the target is a percentage of waste generated, and the UK generates more packaging waste than all but three other EU member states.”

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