LibLink: Robin Teverson: We should clean up our own mess, not export it to China

Lib Dem Peer Robin Teverson has written for Politics Home about the effect of China’s ban on the importation of low grade waste should be a wake up call for us to sort out how we deal with this problem.

China’s import ban, at a stroke, destroys the business model of the UK waste industry, together with its supply chain. The knock-on effects are huge, impacting local authorities and business.

But the UK has been slow to react. Defra is working overtime on Brexit agricultural and fisheries reform, producing a two-years late 25-year environmental plan, getting thousands of EU environmental laws onto the post-Brexit UK statute book. Michael Gove, no less, admitted to the Environmental Audit Committee that he had been taken unawares.

Lack of progress in waste policy, especially in England, has been a contentious issue for some time, not least with a frustrated waste industry. Scotland and Wales have been more ambitious in finding solutions for the future. That lack of focus, in England especially, is no longer an option.

The challenge is both short and long term, and the short term is the problem.

There are no alternative foreign recipients of scale. There is not the capacity to recycle this quantity of product domestically, and the stock piles are already rising. Stored waste is a serious fire hazard. Stop gap measures will be more incineration via waste to energy plants, or a return to landfill. But landfill is environmentally damaging, and waste to energy capacity is limited.

Long term solutions are obvious: a sea-change reduction in plastic packaging, recycling collection rules that everybody can understand – reducing levels of waste contamination, greater re-use of bottles through deposit schemes. The plastic bag revolution shows that consumer habits can rapidly change.

You can read the whole article here.

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3 Comments

  • Where there is muck there is money. More recycling should be done in the UK.

  • Brian Evans 11th Jan '18 - 9:46am

    I know it’s not possible overnight, owing to the variety and cost of appropriate processing equipment, but it would help if the recycling options were the same nationwide.

    I live in Hertfordshire, and can recycle a wide variety of materials as ‘mixed recycling’ (when there is room in the collecting bin for them). There is also a food-waste collection system. My cousin in Nottinghamshire regularly puts food-waste to landfill, because there is no system for that, and has to be careful what goes into mixed as well.

    It must make life very confusing for families moving from one area to another, and probably adds overall to the disincentive to recycle at all.

    I used to work with someone who refused to segregate his waste at all. It all went into one bin. His comment: “If they want to recycle it, they can sort it.” How common is that view, I wonder?

  • David Becket 11th Jan '18 - 10:36am

    When portfolio holder in Newcastle under Lyme I inherited a failing system (16%) and took it to over 50% recycled. On looking at both options, kerbside sort or co-mingled (mixed) as in Hereford. I chose kerbside sort because it produces a quality product that is relatively easy to sell on. Go to a co-mingled processing plant and you will see a mess. At least 10%, possibly more, is contaminated, and much of the output ends up in China, no wonder they are fed up with our rubbish.

    As a first step we should move to kerbside sort, that will produce a product that is more likely to find a market in UK or Europe. Good quality plastic chips will make useable products. For those who won’t sort we try to educate, and if that does not work we stop emptying their bins.

    The second step is to cut down the supply of the waste. To be fair the government are making a start, but it will not be easy. Gone are the days when a product, from meat to drills, would be served by a person and wrapped in a paper bag. We now help ourselves from the shelves, and that means packaging.

    The third step is to produce a degradable material to replace plastic as a packaging product.

    And finally as a little boy in the 40’s I could earn the odd 1d by taking a returnable bottle back to the corner shop.

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