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UK facing 'crisis of investment' as Coffey admonished

A recycling trade body has called for urgent investment in the UK to tackle an expected stockpiling of recyclate after the Chinese import ban in January, as MPs contradict a claim by resources minister Therese Coffey that she has “encouraged” the sector to increase capacity.

Coffey made the claim at an inquiry held by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) on 31 October.

But Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, told MRW that there needs to be “a sea change” in supply chain responsibility in the UK, “that is properly thought through, that is no longer ad hoc”.

“We have shouted and screamed about it – not even the lack of coherent policy but the lack of policy per se,” he added.

”Unfortunately the one thing that we do not have in the UK is capacity to reprocess this material. Look at paper mills, for example: we collect eight million tonnes of paper in the UK every year but we have got the capacity to actually recycle less than 40% of that.

”So where is the investment going into the UK marketplace so we don’t have to rely on China?”

Ellin’s remarks echoed ocriticisms Coffey received at the EAC meeting.

Chair Mary Creagh denounced the lack of adequate action by the Government since the ban was submitted. “You’ve encouraged the industry to create more processing facilities here but these are big capital-intensive plans that stick around for 20 or 40 years,” she said.

“Your warm words of encouragement are not going to be enough to encourage businesses, many of them multinationals, to invest in reprocessing here.”

Green MP Caroline Lucas decried the Government’s lack of immediacy to deal with the ramifications of the ban: “This is happening in eight weeks. It just sounds incredibly lackadaisical. It doesn’t sound like the issue is being treated with the urgency that it presumably deserves.”

Coffey told the meeting: “It gives us an opportunity to reprocess more here, rather than exporting to the other side of the world just because it’s a bit cheaper to do so…

“The industry is saying we need more capacity. I’ve already encouraged them to provide the capacity that they believe we need.”

In 2016, 74% of the waste paper the UK exported went to China, while 55% of the UK’s exported recovered plastics went to China and Hong Kong.

The ban has caused some concern among recycling firms that have highlighted a UK capacity gap to deal with increased recyclate levels. This has caused fears of stockpiling and reduced recycling rates. However, some in the industry have welcomed the opportunity to increase domestic capacity.

The ESA is has a synthesis report underway that seeks to answer the question of whether the UK has overcapacity or undercapacity of infrastructure to tackle waste treatment.

The long-awaited Defra 25-year plan detailing policy areas including food waste, reuse and emissions from landfill is expected to be published in 2017.

China notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) that its plans to ban imports of 24 grades of waste materials, including plastics scrap and unsorted papers, on 18 July. The ban is meant to be taking place from the start of 2018.

“We found that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials. This polluted China’s environment seriously,” China wrote in a submission to the WTO.

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