In all my years in the recycling sector, I have never before experienced a time like this. Make no mistake, we’ve had turbulent times before, but when the going got tough, we were able to turn to the export market and trade our way out.
For lower grade materials (and that means a large proportion of post-consumer collections, and specifically that which is commingled), that export market has been ripped away. And we’re worried.
But we’re not the only ones.
The Chinese Government may have a vision of self-sufficiency, but their reprocessors and packaging manufacturers are worried that they simply don’t have the fibre quality to make this a reality.
I heard this from a range of sources last week on my visit to China. So, are they likely to do a U-turn? There’s no sign of it from the Government, but it’s not completely out of the realms of possibility.
Even if they do, the likelihood is that they will turn to America for additional supplies as that is perceived to be a source of longer fibre. And it will still only be a stop gap market, because self-sufficiency is the overarching objective.
Mid to long term, we need our own, robust solutions – but who’s going to fund these? And what are we to do in the short term?
It was heartening that DEFRA joined us on the China trip, seeing first-hand what challenges lie ahead. Perhaps when they report back to Therese Coffey, she’ll recognise that we are in crisis. Finally. And that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.