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UK agencies prepare for domestic impact of China ban

The Environment Agency (EA) is working with Defra to assess the implications of China’s crackdown on secondary imports amid concerns that waste crime could increase, MRW has been told.

A member of the EA board, Gill Weeks, said the agency has realised that unwanted materials would have to find new outlets if China’s proposed imminent ban on mixed papers and post-consumer plastics is enacted.

Even so, she was confident that fears about the impact of the proposed ban, particularly on plastics, will not materialise.

Writing in the November issue of MRW, Weeks said the situation could even be positive if domestic processors of recycled plastic were no longer being undercut by Chinese importers.

“Our executive team is working closely with Defra colleagues to understand the waste flows and the options available,” she said. “Our biggest concern is that unscrupulous operators may try to enter this market and deal with this waste illegally.”

She suggested that temporary measures may be required.

“If needed, the EA will look to provide guidance developed with the waste sector for safe interim storage options to cover the period from when the ban comes into force and new processing coming online.

“It will also be the role of the EA to support UK processing, enabling efficient permitting and regulation, while ensuring that only legitimate operators are handling this material,” she added.

Weeks strikes a positive note about the domestic market if China “disappears” as an outlet.

“Domestic processors of lower grade plastic will not have to compete with lower Chinese prices, so the business model may encourage development of domestic reprocessing and innovation,” she said.

Weeks was appointed to the EA board in July 2014. From 2006-13 she was regulatory affairs director at Veolia Environmental Services, and was acting policy director at the Environmental Services Association from 2010-11. She was awarded the OBE in 2011 for services to the waste management sector.

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