Britain to Burn Toxic plastic

Originally published by The Telegraph

Toxic plastic to be ‘burned in Britain’ due to China import ban

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of toxic plastic could be burnt in Britain rather than recycled due to a Chinese import ban, officials have warned.

The leaders of the UK’s recycling industry admitted yesterday they had “no idea” how to cope with the prohibition as the policy came into force.

Britain currently ships around two thirds of its used to China for recycling, approximately 500,000 tonnes each year.

But the new ban, imposed as part of a drive towards self-sufficiency and in order to prevent environmental contamination, means councils will be forced to send the majority of the waste for incineration or landfill unless alternative markets are found.

The move was described as a “huge blow” at a time when public willingness to recycle is high thanks in part to the BBC’s Blue Planet II series.

Meanwhile the Government has been criticised for failing to respond quickly enough to the restriction on imports, which was first announced last summer.

Incinerating plastic risks emitting pollutants such as hydrogen chloride, dioxin and fine particulate matter.

Scientists have warned that, even when the chemicals are captured by industrial incinerators, there remains a risk to the environment and potentially human health.

Simon Ellin, Chief Executive of the UK Recycling Association, told Today: “It’s a huge blow for us, it’s a game-changer for our industry.

“We’ve relied on China so long for our waste. We simply don’t have the [recycling] markets in the UK so we do rely on the export markets.”

In 2016 China processed 7.3 million tonnes of plastic waste.

More than half the world’s recycled plastics.

UK recycling firms are now looking for other manufacturing countries to accept waste plastics, such as Malaysia and Vietnam.

However, the current capacity of these alternative destinations would not be enough make up for the lost Chinese market.

Recoup, an organisation which recycles plastics, said the imports ban would lead to stockpiling of plastic waste and a move towards incineration and landfill.

Landfilling plastics has traditionally been thought to be environmentally benign because plastics are chemically inert, but more recently analysis has shown some additives to plastic can migrate into water that percolates into the soil.

Plastics also consume a disproportionate amount of landfill space because they do not degrade and shrink like other waste.

Peter Fleming, from the Local Government Association, which represents councils responsible for waste collection and disposal, said: “Clearly there’s a part to play for incineration but not all parts of the country have incinerators.

“It’s a challenge – but mostly in the short term… and we will cope. In the longer term we need a much more intelligent waste strategy.”

Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, has previously admitted he was slow to realise the ramifications of the Chinese import ban.

The Government is currently considering a deposit reward and return scheme for some single-use plastic items.

Greenpeace said incinerating plastic was “the wrong answer”. “It’s a high-carbon non-renewable form of generating electricity. It also one that creates toxic chemicals and heavy metals,” a spokesman told the BBC.

“If you build incinerators it creates a market for the next 20 to 30 years for single-use plastics, which is the very thing we need to be focusing on reducing right now.”

A spokesman for DEFRA said: “We are taking significant steps to tackle plastic waste.

“We are introducing a ban on plastic microbeads and we have taken nine billion plastic bags out of circulation with our carrier bag charge.

“We recognise more needs to be done to protect our environment from the scourge of plastics, and have launched a call for evidence around deposit reward and return schemes for plastic bottles and other drinks containers.”

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