Isn't plastic exported to China and dumped in a landfill?
Plastic and other material does go to China and other countries, but it’s not just dumped there – people are buying it to use!
Exports of waste material is big business
Plastics for recycling are regularly bought in the UK and elsewhere for export to China.
The international trade in recycled materials is very important, and minimizes the need to use more expensive virgin plastics and the resources required to manufacture them, including oil. The recycled materials are usually transported in container ships that are returning to China after bringing goods to the UK, which lessens the environmental impact of the transport.
It’s also worth noting there are strict international laws surrounding exports of waste, which in the UK are enforced by the Environment Agency and it is illegal to export waste for disposal.
There are also substantial costs incurred in shipping materials to China: for example, a tonne of milk bottles can be worth around £200 and the shipping costs and import duties can be a similar amount again. So, even if it were legal, it does not make economic sense to export them to China to be dumped.
Why is recyclable waste going abroad?
Some of our recycling - including plastic - is exported to be made into new products elsewhere, especially China, where there is a much larger manufacturing industry than we have here in the UK.
There is very strong demand in China for recycled PET plastic (fizzy drink bottles), which is spun into polyester fibre and used to make textiles such as polar fleece, and HDPE plastic (milk bottles), which is turned into a variety of household products such as pipes, crates, bottles and films.
China is a major manufacturer of plastic items - therefore, if we want recycled plastics to be used again, it is inevitable that at least a proportion of our waste plastics will be exported to China to be reused.
The UK has a huge economy and rate of consumption for its size and as new recycling plants start to open here, there will be increased demand from the UK for these materials.