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Recyclers say export market 'must stay open to plastics'

The Recycling Association (RA) has hit out at another bid to halt the export of recyclable plastics and again warned that the step would damage the industry.

While backing a recommendation for increased investment in UK plastics recycling infrastructure in a report from think tank Policy Connect, the RA argued that plans to phase out recyclable plastic exports by 2030 went too far.

Although Policy Connect is not calling for an outright ban, the RA argued that removing the export avenue, however gradually, could remove competition and result in higher costs.

It added that phasing out could also lead to the point where plastics can only be recycled within the UK, also increasing costs. Currently, the RA argued, there is little in the way of concrete policy to support UK recycling infrastructure.

Chief executive Simon Ellin said: “I’m in favour of increased investment in UK plastic recycling infrastructure, and I am hoping the resources and waste strategy will enable that to happen.

“But we also shouldn’t take the risk of removing competition from export markets. We do not want a situation where plastic packaging can only be recycled in the UK and that then makes plastic recycling more expensive.

“A further concern we have is that, although many of the individual elements contained in the resources and waste strategy are relevant and positive for our industry, it will only be successfully delivered if all individual elements work alongside each other.

“It is very dangerous therefore to state that all plastics exports should be banned when there is very little in the strategy which is aimed at growing UK markets. Indeed, if we add the uncertainties of Brexit into the mix, we believe we need to retain as many compliant recycling routes as possible.”

The Policy Connect recommendation comes hot on the heels of a call to ban waste plastic exports outright from campaign group A Plastic Planet. MPs in support have launched an early day motion, which the RA also argued against.

The organisation takes the line that it is already very difficult to export recyclable plastics to Asian countries, and those that do allow it have strict rules and regulations. Much of this material is being sent back to the point of manufacture to be made into the same or a new product, as part of the global circular economy.

Ellin said: “Those countries that still import material recognise the economic benefits recycling brings and want the material for their manufacturing industries. Nobody wants to buy waste, but they do want to buy a secondary commodity they can use.”

The RA also hinted at a campaign it launched last year to simplify packaging materials and improve the quality of materials collected by local authorities, as a means of supporting the recycling industry.

Ellin argued: “What we need to do is ensure that packaging manufacturers and retailers put easily recyclable packaging on the market. Local authorities then need to ensure that their collection and sorting system are designed to avoid contaminating the material.

“That way we create a valuable product that will be in demand from the export market, as well as giving British plastics recyclers a better quality material too. We’ve got to put quality first.”

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