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14 February 2019

A call for a ban on exports of plastic packaging for recycling has caused concern for The Recycling Association.

The report, from Policy Connect, called Plastics Packaging Plan: Achieving New Zero ‘Waste’ Exports calls for “a target of net zero exports of recyclable plastic packaging by 2030 at the latest”.

MPs and politicians including Mary Creagh MP, Lord Deben, Anne Main MP, Rebecca Pow MP, Baroness Jenkin, Anna McMorrin, Barry Sheerman MP, Matt Western MP, Chris Williamson MP, Lord Teverson, Lord Smith and Geraint Davies MP gave their support to the recommendations of the report.

But The Recycling Association has warned that this could have an adverse reaction on UK recycling.

Chief executive Simon Ellin said: “There are many legitimate companies that are successfully and sustainably exporting recyclable plastic packaging to destinations in Europe and Asia primarily.

“More often that not, they are sending material back to the point of manufacture to be made into the same or a new product, and this is part of the global circular economy.

“Plastics are a valuable commodity and we have to ensure that they are recycled where it is most economically and environmentally sustainable to do so.

“It is now very difficult to export plastics to Asian countries, and those that still allow it have very strict rules, regulations and inspection regimes to prevent ‘waste’ from entering their countries.

“But those countries that still import material recognise the economic benefits recycling brings and want the material for their manufacturing industries. Nobody wants to buy waste, but they want to buy a secondary commodity they can use.

“What we need to do is ensure that packaging manufacturers and retailers put easily recyclable packaging on the market. Local authorities then need to ensure that their collection and sorting systems are designed to avoid contaminating the material.

“That way we create a valuable product that will be in demand from the export market, as well as giving British plastics recyclers a better quality material too. We’ve got to put quality first.

“I’m in favour of increased investment in UK plastic recycling infrastructure, and I am hoping the Resources & Waste Strategy will enable that to happen. But we also shouldn’t take the risk of removing competition from export markets. We do not want a situation where plastic packaging can only be recycled in the UK and that then makes plastic recycling more expensive.

“There is some very good stuff in this report, but the idea of banning recyclable plastic packaging could potentially be very damaging to UK recycling.

“A further concern we have is that, although many of the individual elements contained in the Resources & Waste Strategy are very relevant and positive for our industry, it will only be successfully delivered if all individual elements work alongside each other. It is very dangerous therefore to state that all plastics exports should be banned when there is very little in the Resources & Waste Strategy which is aimed at growing UK markets. Indeed, if we add the uncertainties of Brexit into the mix, we believe we need to retain as many compliant recycling routes as possible.”

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