Thailand’s ban on waste plastic imports, which is to be implemented within three years, could be a “wake up call” for European investment in its recycling infrastructure, according to UK plastics companies.
Thailand first announced in the summer that it would introduce a ban but has now confirmed, according to the Financial Times, that this will come into force by 2021.
Following the Chinese ban on plastic scrap imports, there was concern that the material was simply being diverted to other Asian countries.
Thailand joins Vietnam and Malaysia, who have also instigated restrictions on waste plastics imports.
Vanden Recycling managing director David Wilson argued that more investment was needed in recycling infrastructure either in the UK, France and Germany.
Wilson said: “What’s got restricted is not the trade in materials it’s the trade in scrap. It’s very difficult to ship scrap or post-industrial scrap to Asia.
“What’s really easy to ship to Asia is reprocessed pellet. The underlying material is still wanted by Asia, it just doesn’t want the scrap.
“It seems as though the reprocessing of scrap in the UK and Europe will happen much closer to home and we will export that high quality material to Asia and to some extend that is already starting to happen.”
Wilson said there had already been “disruption” in plastics recycling over the past year due to these restrictions and expected more around 2020 when he expected businesses would feel ready to invest.
However, Wilson thought the Thai ban would have “minimal” impact on the UK and Europe, as the amounts being exported were relatively small, but that it would affect Australia and possibly West Coast America.
He described it as a “stretch” to think that European markets would be affected but conceded that existing recycling capacity could start to get more full and more infrastructure could be planned.
British Plastics Federation recycling group chair Roger Baynham agreed that the quality of the material being exported was the issue.
He said: “From a sustainability perspective clearly there are concerns about the export of low quality and mixed household plastic for recycling and the UK has a great duty of care to ensure that that doesn’t happen.
“If Thailand and other destinations are concerned about this then that’s quite understandable.
“If that means there is a wake up to future proof materials for waste and acts as a springboard for infrastructure so we can collect and recycle household plastic waste that’s a good thing but we may have a short-term problem.”
Adina Renee Adler, senior director of the US association Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, said: “We support the Thai Government’s efforts to enhance responsible recycling within Thailand and offer our help in that endeavor so that, in the long-term, Thailand can reap the environmental and economic benefits of recycling all materials, including plastics.”