Restrictions on import of waste materials into China

There has been a lot of media coverage recently about new regulations imposed by China in relation to waste and recycling materials delivered into the country from all around the world, including the UK.

There is speculation that this will mean we do not have outlets and markets for the recyclable materials that we collect.

We would like to take this opportunity to reassure residents of Bristol, and our commercial customers, that Bristol Waste Company has sustainable recycling markets for the materials that you separate for recycling and that these are traded with environmentally responsible, accredited reprocessors.

We would like to take this opportunity to reassure residents of Bristol, and our commercial customers, that Bristol Waste Company has sustainable recycling markets for the materials that you separate for recycling and that these are traded with environmentally responsible, accredited reprocessors.

China is a very important market for some materials, so the new regulations are of some concern across the industry, however at the current time we at Bristol Waste are not exporting any material directly to China. There is some impact on us, and on all UK operators in the waste and recycling industry, because the restrictions in China have resulted in over-supply in other areas and this has depressed commodity prices in the market, but this does not impact our ability to ensure the materials are properly recycled and diverted from landfill.

The key materials affected by the situation in China are plastics and certain grades of fibres (mixed papers). For the past 12 months Bristol Waste has used alternative markets for these materials, mostly within the UK but also elsewhere in Europe and the Far East. China may still ultimately be the end destination for some of the materials but only after they have been through a secondary sorting process which further enhances the quality of the products.

The regulations in China do not amount to a total “ban” on importing materials. What they are designed to do is to set a higher quality threshold for the material and particularly to ensure that less scrupulous operators do not export “waste” disguised as recycling, or recycling with high contamination levels. Bristol Waste agrees with this principle and we are confident that through our collection methods and our sorting processes we deliver high-quality material to the market and thus we are less negatively affected by any tighter controls than other companies or councils. This is one of the reasons, for example, why we don’t collect all types of plastic for recycling at the kerbside. Whilst we accept that this can sometimes be a cause of some confusion and frustration it is vital to ensuring a high quality product and this is more important than ever at the current time.

On the positive side the tighter restrictions on exports to China should act as a catalyst for the UK to improve its recycling infrastructure to ensure a higher quality product, which in the longer term should help to develop more sustainable domestic markets, bringing economic, social and environmental benefits.

We very much value the efforts of residents and would urge you to continue to separate your materials for recycling and help us to achieve one of our key aims of reducing residual waste and increasing recycling and re-use. This helps us to spend less on disposing of waste and to create more value from materials that are suitable for recycling or re-use.