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China’s plastic ban

March 3, 2018 7:51 AM

In July last year, China announced that as of January 2018 it would no longer accept contaminated western waste, mainly plastics and paper.

Despite the clear warning, the British government did nothing except express surprise when the ban came into force, trying to portray the Chinese as behaving unreasonably by refusing to take any more of our garbage.

Some grades of recyclables would still be accepted by the Chinese, but they'd need to have very low contamination levels.

The decision by the Chinese government is part of a programme to clean up their environment.

The UK produces 2.2million tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year. Considering how light plastic is this represents a huge volume of material. Because we've relied on exporting it, there is relatively little capacity in the UK for reprocessing plastic waste.

It may be possible to find other countries willing to take our waste if the price is right. Other options are incineration, which happens to some of Wiltshire's waste at the moment; and landfill which is expensive because of the landfill tax.

There are two problems with incineration - air pollution is one, and the other is that the providers need contracts promising large quantities of waste over long periods. This then creates a disincentive to reduce or recycle waste.

Michael Gove has set out a four-point plan for dealing with plastic waste:

  • Cut the total amount of plastic in circulation.
  • Reduce the number of different plastics in use to will help recycling
  • Improve the rate of recycling, which has been slipping recently
  • Make it easier for people to know what goes into the recycling bin and what goes into general rubbish.

However the current situation requires some urgency, and there's little sign of government recognising this. Rates of recycling at local authority level are stagnating. Budgetary restraints make it difficult for councils to do anything about this. Wiltshire's plan to change the waste collection system later this year must be in question.

At least we can all do our bit by considering packaging in the shops, and reducing the amount of rubbish we buy.