The Environmental Services Association (ESA) has published a briefing note that shows how the export of UK-collected recycling to overseas reprocessors has helped the UK achieve a near quadrupling of recycling rates in a decade.
Launching ‘Overseas options: the importance of exports to UK recycling' the ESA's director of policy, Matthew Farrow, said: “Householders, councils and waste management companies have worked hard in the last ten years to boost recycling – three times as much dry recyclable material is now collected each year compared to 2000.
“Exporting some of this material for reprocessing elsewhere has enabled the amount we recycle to grow well beyond the size of the UK's reprocessing sector, which does not have the capacity today to take all the material collected.
However, Paul Levett, chairman of the non-executive advisory committee at Closed Loop Recycling, sounded a note of caution. "Investors in UK reprocessing need to have confidence that input materials will be available to feed their plants,” he said.
“Availability can sometimes be affected by illegal exports of poorly sorted materials to countries which have no landfill tax and/or poor working conditions for low paid sorters.
“UK reprocessors, like Closed Loop Recycling, have no problems in competing for material with compliant exporters and we would encourage the government to persist with its plans for a quality code of practice for MRFs and greater enforcement of the TFS regulations (Shipment of Waste Regulations 1994 No.1137)."
Farrow countered these comments, adding: “Where criminals try to export ‘raw', hazardous or unsorted waste we expect tough enforcement action. One of the reasons we have developed the MRF Code of Practice is to help the authorities target this sort of illegal activity.”