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China bans imports of plastic waste

Geoff Riley

2nd January 2018

The decision by the Chinese to block imports of low-grade plastic waste could have huge ramifications for many countries including the UK. For some it will provide yet more impetus in the search for radical approaches to cutting the volume of plastic waste generated from production and consumption.

The immediate problem for many countries in the European Union (including the UK) is that they simply do not have sufficient recycling capacity to deal with the mountains of waste that, in previous years, have been shipped to China. Can we avoid a surge of waste going to landfill or incineration?

Additional comments from Graham Watson

Chinese policy has changed it's policy as regards the importation of waste plastics. This means that the UK is now facing increased quantities of plastic waste at UK recycling plants. This will have all sorts of consequences and should see markets working to resolve the problem. 

In the first place, the price of recycling should rise, and this will have all sorts of effects on related markets. However, is there sufficient spare capacity to cope with the sudden upsurge in plastic waste. And what will this mean for Britain's commitment to reduce the level of plastic waste. Prior to the intervention, British companies had been shipping almost two-thirds of our plastic waste to Hong Kong and China.  

Geoff Riley

Geoff Riley FRSA has been teaching Economics for over thirty years. He has over twenty years experience as Head of Economics at leading schools. He writes extensively and is a contributor and presenter on CPD conferences in the UK and overseas.

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