Research by a plastics exporter has estimated the overall capacity lost to the UK by the Chinese restrictions on secondary material imports at 375,000 tonnes per year - around two-thirds the 2017 total.
Globally, China used to import seven million tonnes of plastics for recycling each year but now allows only post-manufacturing plastics which Vanden Recycling says is around 10%.
Vanden Recycling used HMRC export data and the National Packaging Waste Database to assess how alternative destinations such as the UK, Turkey, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the European Union would fill the gap caused by the ban.
It predicts that 472,500 tonnes of plastic recycling capacity will be lost while alternative destinations will add around 121,800 tonnes of extra capacity this year. But this will leave a gap of 350,700 tonnes with nowhere to go.
Vanden managing director David Wilson said: ”In the medium to longer term, we expect that some destinations will see opportunity from the China ban and more capacity will emerge. But it could be a year or two, perhaps more, before there is any real progress.
”Since the start of 2018, we have seen a softening in price of various plastic grades that are still able to find a market. Transactions have tended to happen between companies with existing relationships and levels of trust,” he added.
He said smaller exporters had issues with getting hold of boxes as shipping lines are worried that other Asian destinations will follow the lead of China and impose tougher restrictions on material. The lines do not wish to be left with containers full of banned or restricted plastics on the water or at dockside.
- More on this in the March issue of MRW