Chinese ban puts pressure on local authority recycling costs

22 Oct 18

Councils are calling on manufacturers to “play their part” in meeting the rising cost of recycling after China banned the importation of certain materials.

The ban, introduced in January 2018, has increased the cost of recycling for one-fifth of councils in England and Wales, according to a Local Government Association survey.

A poll by the LGA found councils most affected by the restrictions had seen an increase of £500,000 on average for recycling costs.

The umbrella-group based its findings on a survey group of 14 councils and data from a sample of 134 councils – roughly a third of councils in England and Wales.

China’s ban on 24 types of unsorted mixed paper and plastics has meant the fee charged to councils to process materials collected from kerbside collections has increased from £15 to £22 per tonne, the LGA said. 

The organisation fears that other import bans could cost the UK taxpayer more, with Malaysia about to charge more for recycling importants for three months from this week and Vietnam also mulling restrictions.

Martin Tett, LGA environment spokesman, said: “It’s clear that the ban by China on imported waste, which could soon be implemented by other countries, could have a marked impact on councils’ ability to recycle.

“Councils want manufacturers to play their part in the battle against unnecessary and unrecyclable waste.”

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ forthcoming resources and waste strategy must address the longer-term impact of China’s ban, the LGA urged.

Tett said that manufacturers should work with councils to reduce the amount of unrecyclable material entering the environment in the first place.

He said it is “essential” that the government used the Budget and the forthcoming resources and waste strategy to “thoroughly assess” the financial impact of these bans on councils and encourage manufacturers to take up more of the responsibility for dealing with unrecyclable materials. The waste strategy is expected to come out before the end of the year. 

Last Thursday, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council took the decision to temporarily close plastic recycling banks and only collect “clean” plastic from drinks, shampoo and bleach bottles.

Hayley Eachus, cabinet member for regulatory services and the environment, said: “There has been a drop in the market for recycling mixed plastics, making it unviable for the company providing mixed plastic banks in the borough to sell on the material for recycling.

“This is a national issue affecting other local authorities around the country.”

Swindon Borough Council is consulting on changing its approach to recycling because of the Chinese import ban. It has proposed that plastics are put into general waste collection to be taken a local plant that turns plastics into fuel.

Former cabinet member for highways and the environment Fionuala Foley said: “The waste strategy is all about ensuring we collect the waste and recycling from our residents in the most cost- effective, efficient and environmentally friendly way.”

A National Audit Office report from July said that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated that English local authorities spent £700m on collecting and sorting packaging waste in 2017.

CIPFA and the Institute for Government’s recent Performance Tracker found that an increasing number of councils are now charging for garden waste collection.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are working with councils and the waste industry to respond fully to the new requirements imposed by China.

“Our ambition is to handle more of our waste in the UK.

“While there has been a significant increase in recycling over the last 10 years, there is more that needs to be done. We will set out our reforms to reduce waste and increase recycling in our resources and waste strategy later this year.”

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