Ministers have been urged to “get on the plane to Beijing” to challenge China’s proposed de facto ban on some secondary material grades, following fears that the UK recycling industry will not be able to meet strict new standards.
The call came from Ray Georgeson, chief executive of the Resource Association, in a speech at the annual conference of the Kent Waste Partnership in Canterbury.
Georgeson said he believed China’s determination was genuine, saying “this time we are told it is for real”. Regulators were tightening quality demands to “impossible” levels that supply chains, including those in the UK, cannot meet, he added.
“I am hesitant to be a Cassandra-like voice on this because we end up where, yet again, newspapers will be saying recycling is in crisis, that China is not taking our stuff, it’s all getting dumped.
“I know Defra has had the industry in for some representation and dialogue. From my perspective and those of other associations, there is an urgent need for the Government to get on the plane to Beijing to take a delegation to China and start negotiating.
“Don’t underestimate the seriousness of the Chinese situation, but it ought to be solvable with some serious diplomatic intervention,” he added.
Georgeson said he would like greater efforts made to rejuvenate UK manufacturing capacity using recyclates. He believed the Government could work with WRAP in a return to the organisation’s early role of developing recycling markets.
He was also concerned about the consequences to the UK industry of a Brexit deal that restricted EU and other low-skilled migrant labour.
He said the view came from his own experience as a non-executive director of Bryson Recycling in Belfast.
“That business would grind to a halt if it didn’t have a Polish workforce on the MRF and in the vehicles. You will see it in other parts of our industry and in other industries as well.
“I would suggest it’s something this industry has to take a little more seriously. It’s not a pro- or anti-Brexit argument – it’s an exposition of an economic reality of what may happen.
“If there are restrictions on movement of labour, it will have a significant impact on the sector, be in no doubt of that.”
robert vaughan defra
The conference also heard from Robert Vaughan, Defra’s head of household waste and recycling (pictured), who laid out the department’s approach with Michael Gove as environment secretary.
He said there would be a “renewed approach and commitments” under the 25-year environment plan which Gove has said would be published by the end of the year. Vaughan would not elaborate on the content or form of the plan.
He added that the ministry wanted to work with local authorities to improve recycling performance in “dense urban areas”, while greater consistency would improve quality and quantity of recyclates. He promised further initiatives in the coming months.