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Plastic exports ban 'could lead to UK recycling collapse'

Banning the export of plastic waste would result in more landfilling and could cause UK plastic recycling infrastructure to collapse, the Recycling Association (RA) has warned.

Chief executive Simon Ellin was responding to an early day motion (EDM) in Parliament calling for a plastics export ban, as demanded by campaign group A Plastic Planet.

Ellin said banning “legitimate” trade in recycled plastics would “decimate” the industry, causing prices to crash and material landfilled, and was “very worrying”.

So far 35 MPs, including the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, have signed the EDM but it is not known if, and when, it will be debated in Parliament. Even though the EDM has no legal standing, the RA is concerned it may influence the Government’s legislative direction.

Instead, Ellin argued that the Environment Agency and devolved agencies need to focus resources on catching the criminals who consistently export illegally, while companies exporting legitimately should have a “lighter touch focus”.

Ellin argued: “We should definitely look to invest in our own UK plastic reprocessing infrastructure, but exports should have their place too as part of a global economy.

“To stimulate UK infrastructure, we need more measures than just a 30% minimum recycled content level as proposed in the resources and waste strategy, but also need to look at energy prices, the taxation system, the planning system and demand for material.

“By banning exports, there will be no incentive to collect these materials and the whole system will collapse. That will make it very hard to develop UK infrastructure.”

He added that the UK should assist developing countries in creating better collection infrastructure, which is the “major problem” contributing to the plastics pollution problem, rather than cutting off material supply to their manufacturing industries.

Ellin added: “A number of Asian countries have already banned plastic imports while others have placed tougher restrictions on plastic imports. It is up to them to decide what they will accept, and up to us to meet their requirements to help them develop successful recycling industries.

“Often these plastics, once recycled, are sent to manufacturing centres to be turned into new products. This is the circular economy in action.”

The EDM can be viewed here: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/52495/plastic-waste-exports-no-2

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet

After years of weasel words, the artful construction of the recycling house of cards is disintegrating fast. How many times do we read comments claiming that most of the waste is coming from south-east Asia developing countries, and we in the west are trying to help them by sending our own waste to add to their own.

Sending our plastic waste to the poorest people of the world is immoral and exploitative and it is happening in our name. To imagine that the UK is now going to ‘help’ developing countries to build a suitable waste management infrastructure is yet another hypocritical falsehood. It is time for us to face facts and deal with our own dirt.

The UK throws away nearly 300 billion pieces of plastic every year; less than 10% is ever recycled. We are now witnessing some of the biggest greenwash in history, with a recycling industry claiming we should not be dictating to developing countries what quality of plastic they should import, depriving them of the material. Have any of these people been to Myanmar, Mozambique or Malaysia? Plastic waste is one thing they are not lacking.

The days of our responsibility ending when we popped our waste into the recycling bin are gone: the truth is out of the bin bag. Big business setting up ‘end plastic waste’ coalitions while continuing to pump out billions of plastic items daily will be exposed for its duplicitous tokenism. Evolve and embrace the essential change we all urgently need or suffer the consequences. This is a time of opportunity for those that see the green light.

Readers' comments (3)

  • This is serious if you think that the business for captured and used plastics (meaning OIL_BASED_PLASTICS) is a business where they have to be continuously re-used.

    In these days this is not an issue any more.

    We can use these captured and used plastics much more usefully and turn them into other (MUCH_MUCH_MORE_PROFITABLE) uses.

    And at the same time free up the system of perpetually seeking to recycle and re-use them.

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  • It still baffles me why people who get themselves so worked up about economic and environmental conditions in Asia, are the people continuing to spend money buying (plastic) goods made in Asia, using possibly less robust labour and environmental practices. Who made the computer you are using? What about the TV your kids are watching tonight? The cheap batteries from the poundshop? Etc etc.

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  • Plastic Planet and Recycling Association are both correct – we must develop UK recycling and assist developing countries to improve their waste management as sewage systems. There is no silver bullet!!!

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