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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Friday 5 January: China waste - myth busting and coffee cup waste

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China waste myth-busting

An image of crushed aluminium food and drinks cans
Crushed aluminium recyclate (copyright: Thinkstock)

We have seen continued coverage in recent days of the impact on China’s ban on some waste imports.

This includes the Daily Mail, Guardian, Telegraph, BBC News and Sky News, all of which have reported on concerns at the impact the Chinese decision may have on plastics and paper waste.

Since China announced its intentions last year, Defra has worked with the Chinese Embassy via the Department for International Trade, industry, the Environment Agency, WRAP, the devolved administrations and representatives from local government to understand the potential impact of the ban and the action that needs to be taken.

Relevant facts and figures on the impact of the ban;

  • China’s decision to ban imports of recycled paper and plastic will have a global impact, affecting a number of countries and the EU.
  • In the UK we use a mix of our own domestic markets as well as those abroad, with China being our main export market. Alternative solutions to dealing with the waste in the short term, such as new markets, are being sought.
  • While we recognise that China’s decision will cause some issues in the short term for recycling in the UK, and there may be concerns over the potential for materials to build-up, to date we have received no reports of waste “stockpiling”. We will continue to monitor China’s implementation of the restrictions as well as the impact in the UK
    • In the UK 3.7 million tonnes of plastic waste and 9.1 million tonnes of paper waste are created in the UK in a single year.
  • Of that total, the UK exports 0.8 million tonnes of plastic to countries around the world, of which 0.4 million tonnes is sent to China (including Hong Kong). The UK also exports 3.7 million tonnes of paper waste to China (including Hong Kong)
  • China’s decision has a global impact. As a comparison, other countries including Germany (0.6 million tonnes), Japan and the US (both 1.5 million tonnes) export more plastic to China for reprocessing than the UK.

Coffee cup waste

Photo of a discarded coffee cup
Photo credit: ThinkStock

The Environmental Audit Committee today published a report highlighting a series of recommendations on how to reduce coffee cup waste.

This included a proposed coffee cup charge, or “latte levy”, of 25p, which was covered by a range of newspapers and broadcasters including the Independent, Sky News, Daily Telegraph, Guardian and Daily Mail.

Other areas of coverage included the report’s recommendation that all coffee cups should be recycled by 2023, and highlighted the discounts and voluntary charges that some coffee shops are already offering.

A Defra spokesperson said:

As this report recognises, we are already taking action towards our goal of a ‘zero waste economy’ and working closely with industry and organisations such as WRAP, we have made great progress in boosting recycling rates and making more products recyclable.

We are encouraged by industry action to increase the recycling of paper cups with some major retail chains now offering discounts to customers with reusable cups.

We will carefully consider the Committee’s recommendations and respond shortly.

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