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China plastics ban: finding a home for 350 000 tonnes ‘that won’t have a market’

Asia – Some 350 000 tonnes of plastics scrap that would have previously been recycled will be diverted from this path in 2018 as a result of China’s ban on imports, UK-based Vanden Recycling has warned.

Using HM Revenue & Customs’ export data along with stats from the National Packaging Waste Database, the company has extrapolated the growth seen in alternative destinations during 2016 and 2017 to gauge the extent to which these outlets are likely to fill the gap created in 2018 by the almost complete ban on plastics exported to China.

While some post-industrial plastics will still be shipped there, Vanden Recycling estimates that this will ‘only be 10% of the total exports seen in 2016’. Some 472 000 tonnes of export market is predicted to be lost next year as a result of the Chinese ban.

Meanwhile, growth in alternative outlets in, for example, the UK, Turkey, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and elsewhere in the EU is estimated at just 121 300 tonnes when extrapolatibng from the 2016 and 2017 data.

‘This means there will be 350 700 tonnes with nowhere to go,’ the analysis concludes. ‘There are some in the market who think that it won’t be a problem to find alternative markets to China as a result of its ban on most plastic imports,’ comments Vanden Recycling’s managing director David Wilson.

‘While in the short term it has been possible to find alternative destinations to China, our analysis suggests 2018 will be tough for the UK. We will have to find a home for over 350 000 tonnes of material that went to China and now won’t have a market,’ he remarks.

New processing capacity will eventually emerge, according to Wilson. ‘It’s a question of when and where, and will those markets think that the UK material that has been recycled in the past is in fact worth processing in the same volumes?’

Another factor, according to Wilson, is that China used to import 7 million tonnes of scrap plastics from all around the world.

‘So competition will be even more fierce from net exporters in places such as Europe, the USA and Australia,’ he says. ‘We therefore have to focus on ensuring UK material is the best quality possible and offers the best possible value to give us the opportunity to sell more to these alternative destinations.’

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