Waste (UK)

UPDATE : DEFRA has announced it will consult on various single-use plastic bans, and on a new deposit returns system (DRS) for single-use drinks containers, including bottles and cans. Information is here.

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On 1st January 2018 China imposed a ban on the import of certain types of waste including mixed paper and post-consumer plastics (plastics thrown away by consumers). In addition, some other types of waste, including all other paper and plastics exports, will have to meet a reduced acceptable contamination level of 0.5% from March 2018.

China’s decision has a global impact, including in the UK. 3.7 million tonnes of plastic waste are created in the UK in a single year. Of that total, the UK exports 0.8 million tonnes to countries around the world, of which 0.4 million tonnes is sent to China (incl. Hong Kong). In comparison, other countries including Germany (0.6 million tonnes), Japan and the US (both 1.5 million tonnes) export more plastic to China for reprocessing than the UK. The UK also exports 3.7 million tonnes of paper waste to China (incl. Hong Kong), out of 9.1 million tonnes of paper waste in total. In comparison, the US exports 12.8 million tonnes of paper waste to China.

Today, the DEFRA Secretary outlined in a Written Statement here, the progress made on this matter.

The statement identifies that the Environment Agency has issued fresh guidance to exporters, stating that any waste which does not meet China’s new criteria will be stopped, in the same way as banned waste going to any other country. If you are exporting waste, please check the guidance you are using. If you wish this guidance to be loaded onto the EHS Legislation Registers, please let me know (it currently is not loaded).

The statement confirms Operators must continue to manage waste on their sites in accordance with the permit conditions issued by the Environment Agency (England), (presumably ditto in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Where export markets or domestic reprocessing are not available, the process chosen to manage waste must be the one that minimises the environmental impact of treatment as fully as possible and follows the waste hierarchy. This requires operators to ensure that where waste cannot be prevented or reused it is recycled where practicable, before considering energy recovery through incineration or the last resort of disposal to landfill.

In July 2017, the DEFRA Secretary announced at the World Wildlife Fund its intention to publish a new Resources and Waste Strategy later in 2018. The Clean Growth Strategy, published on 12 October 2017, set out the ambition for zero avoidable waste by 2050 and announced that changes are being explored to the producer responsibility scheme. An earlier Blog post details the Clean Growth Strategy key elements.

In December 2017, the DEFRA Secretary chaired an industry roundtable on plastics and outlined his four point plan for tackling plastic waste: cutting the total amount of plastic in circulation; reducing the number of different plastics in use; improving the rate of recycling; supporting comprehensive and frequent rubbish and recycling collections, and making it easier for individuals to know what goes into the recycling bin and what goes into general rubbish.

Other measures (mentioned in this Statement) are :

  1. the existing 5p charge on plastic bags that has taken 9 billion bags out of circulation, reducing usage by 83%,
  2. the ban on the manufacture of personal care products containing plastic microbeads in force tomorrow 9th January 2018 (an earlier Blog post identifies this, and Email Alerts have been sent to subscribers likely to need this legislation – if you have not received this Email Alert and need the legislation, please let me know),
  3. a call for evidence (October 2017) on managing single use drinks containers – DEFRA working group will report to Ministers early in 2018,
  4. work with HMT (Treasury) on a call for evidence in 2018 to seek views on how the tax system or charges could reduce the amount of single use plastics waste, and
  5. £3bn committed by 2042 under the Waste Infrastructure Delivery Programme to support a range of facilities to keep waste out of landfill and increase recycling levels.

The Statement confirms China’s decision underlines the need for progress in all these areas, specifically waste reduction, and minimising waste export.

The Statement identifies DEFRA will set out further steps in the coming weeks and months to achieve these goals, including in the forthcoming 25 Year Environment Plan.