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Industry tells Coffey to take 'urgent action' over China's import ban

2000 china shanghai port shipping

Trade associations have called on resource minister Therese Coffey to send a delegation to Beijing to lobby over proposed restrictions on secondary material imports amid growing concern that the impact on the UK recycling sector is not being taken seriously enough in Whitehall.

A letter from the Confederation of Paper Industries, Resource Association (RA), Recycling Association and Environmental Services Association urges Defra to “take urgent action” to support the recycling industry. It also requests that WRAP returns to its focus on market development.

Both of these demands were set out by RA chief executive Ray Georgeson at a Kent Resource Partnership conference on 22 September, reported by MRW.

In the letter, the associations asked Coffey to send a delegation to “negotiate at a high level in support of our desire to continue to provide the Chinese economy with secondary materials that they need, on terms that are reasonable and continue to protect the environment, as well as being practicable in a UK context”.

The call follows Chinese plans to ban post-consumer plastics and mixed papers and restrict imports of recovered materials if they cannot meet a contamination level of 0.3%.

We are aware of this situation and are looking into the potential implications

Defra spokesperson

The letter says the restrictions have “the potential to be very damaging for UK recycling performance”. 

It notes that the industry met Defra on 13 September to discuss the “Chinese situation”, which is described as an information-gathering exercise. MRW understands there is frustration that this has been the limit of Whitehall activity.

Implications include the absence of alternative markets to replace the UK’s dependence on China, the livelihood of businesses in the supply chain and the likely stockpiling – or worse – of unwanted materials in the UK.

The four trade associations have urged Defra and WRAP to consider ways of developing current and new recycling markets, and to introduce “demand-pull measures” to encourage the use of secondary materials in UK-manufactured products.

In response to MRW, a Defra spokesperson said: “We are aware of this situation and are looking into the potential implications.”

THE LETTER

Dear Dr Coffey,

We write on behalf of the Confederation of Paper Industries, the Recycling Association, the Resource Association and the Environmental Services Association to bring to your urgent attention our concerns about recycling in the UK in relation to the situation concerning export of recyclates to China and the longer-term prospects for UK manufacturing and its ability to use recycled materials. We write to ask for your active support on these issues, all of which are critical to the future success of recycling in the UK. 

Our organisations represent the supply chain for UK recyclates and the major proportion of reprocessors utilising recycled materials in home manufacturing in the paper, and plastics industries and significant elements of the metals recycling sector. Together, our members collect, sort, reprocess in the UK and export over 11 million tonnes of paper, plastics, metals and glass and are a significant contributor to the UK’s recycling success story over the last twenty years.

The Chinese Government’s follow up to its National Sword policy proposes to restrict imports of recovered materials unless they reach a contamination level of just 0.3%, as well as a complete ban on the import of post-consumer plastics and mixed papers. This has the potential to be very damaging for UK recycling performance. Such levels of contamination are difficult to achieve without excessive costs and are a significant tightening of rules beyond what is needed to ensure good quality material is received at minimal environmental impact.

In 2016, over 260,000 tonnes of plastics and 3.7 million tonnes of fibre (paper and card) were exported to China from the UK. UK manufacturing capacity for paper in 2016 was just over 3 million tonnes. Although our members have put in place contingencies and are currently finding alternative markets, the downward pressure on prices as the world competes for these smaller markets is cause for concern.

Recently, your officials held a meeting (on 13 September) at which we were represented, to discuss the Chinese situation. We appreciate that this was an intelligence gathering exercise by Defra, but we now appeal to you to take some urgent actions to support our industries.

Firstly, we appeal to you to send a UK delegation to China to negotiate at a high level in support of our desire to continue to provide the Chinese economy with secondary materials that they need, on terms that are reasonable and continue to protect the environment as well as being practicable in the UK context. We are willing to support this delegation and stand ready to offer any financial and practical assistance that may be needed.

Secondly, as you review the future funding and programmes of WRAP, we ask you and WRAP to again return to the pressing matter of ‘recycling market development’ and ‘demand-pull measures’ to encourage the use of secondary materials in UK manufactured products and open up new market opportunities, linked to developing Industrial Strategy, can be revived. Action in this area would send a clear signal to UK recyclers and reprocessors, and to UK local government and would be widely welcomed.

At the very least, we appeal to you to revive this policy area as part of your forthcoming renewal of waste and resources strategy, but hope that you will consider convening a roundtable on these issues more quickly than that, to appreciate in more detail the pressing urgency (particularly in relation to China).

We look forward to your early response and stand ready to offer our support in tackling these pressing challenges.

Dr Marcus Gover, Chief Executive of WRAP has been placed in copy and we also look forward to his considered response.

The letter was signed by: Simon Weston, director of raw materials, Confederation of Paper Industries; Ray Georgeson, chief executive, Resource Association; Simon Ellin, chief executive, Recycling Association; and Jacob Hayler, executive director, Environmental Services Association.

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