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China and Indonesia ‘show need’ for UK paper mill investment

The UK’s Recycling Association is calling on its government to support investment in UK paper and cardboard recycling infrastructure on the back of recent announcements from China and Indonesia.

China wants to ban the import of all recovered fibre grades by the end of this year, consolidating the ban on mixed paper introduced at the end of 2017. Indonesia has announced that it will introduce a 2% contamination limit on paper and plastics but it is also developing a roadmap in the next six months that will lead to reduced import quotas.

For The Recycling Association (TRA), this shows the need for UK Government support to recycle more paper and cardboard at home through investment in greater mill capacity. ‘In the UK we consume some eight million tonnes of paper and cardboard every year but more than half of that is exported as we don’t have the capacity to recycle it here,’ says chief executive Simon Ellin.

Indonesia to follow China

UK recovered paper exporters used to ship three million tonnes of material to China but that is no longer the case since China banned mixed paper and has been gradually reducing quotas since then with the aim of a total ban by the end of this year.

When Ellin visited Indonesia in 2019 to lobby its government, he learned that it intended to introduce a 0.5% contamination limit like China. ‘In my opinion, Indonesia will follow the example of China by gradually introducing a tougher regime that could eventually lead to an outright ban,’ he explains.

Investments needed 

Ellin believes that while countries such as Indonesia will remain vital for the UK market in the short term, ‘as part of our circular economy aspirations in this country we need investment in the UK papermaking sector’.

UK paper recyclers will continue to export high quality recovered paper to Asia, says Ellin. ‘But we also have to recognise that it is a constricting market with countries such as India, Vietnam and Malaysia also toughening up their import regimes.’

A new paper infrastructure

According to TRA chief executive, the focus in the UK should be on developing infrastructure to meet targets for a circular economy. ‘This should include investigating the possibility of a pulp mill so that we can export recycled pulp to global manufacturing centres.

This is essential because when we buy manufactured goods from these countries, we need to return the cardboard packaging materials to them as pulp to be turned back into new cardboard boxes,’ he argues. There could also be the option for a new mill producing finished paper or cardboard products that could be sold within the UK, into EU or globally.

The Recycling Association is calling on the UK government to co-operate on a feasibility study to investigate the economic benefits of new recycling infrastructure for paper and cardboard and the mechanisms of how this could be funded.

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