Paper Trail

Tony Goodman, Director of Resource Management at Cawleys, takes a closer look at China’s paper recycling import rules and the measures being taken in the UK to keep the trade doors ajar.

If your business produces waste paper and card, you’ll know how important it is to keep it as clean and dry to achieve maximum recycling rates. Paper and card are important recycling commodities and back in October we reported on the changing export market, specifically on China’s quota delays.

Since our last update things have moved on considerably. It has now become more important than ever to ensure paper and card waste is kept in the best possible condition. Even local authorities are now being urged to consider segregated collections of paper and card at kerbside.

Domestic segregation

The UK’s paper industry has warned that if local authorities fail to consider segregated collections, they could face significant financial risks. The warning was issued by ‘Our Paper’, a campaign group formed in association with WRAP a recycling and resource charity. The ‘Our Paper’ group is urging local authorities to consider this alternative way of collecting. It will require a change of approach by consumers, as well as those performing the waste collections. Education will be vital. By making such changes WRAP predicts financial benefits “of up to £400 million over eight years, returning up to £478 million of materials in the economy as dry recyclables”.

Top quality paper recyclate

So why is it so important for waste paper and card to be kept clean and dry?

When it comes to paper and card recycling, quality is everything. By urging consumers and businesses to keep paper and card separate it is easier and quicker to separate and prevents it from becoming contaminated by other items. Contamination refers to the paper and card getting dirty or wet. Once it has become soiled or damp the value of this waste card and paper decreases and export prices dip. As such, recycling companies not only segregate waste and card from other waste streams, they also segregate different bales of card and paper based on quality. There are extremely good reasons for doing this. In recent times export markets have become more demanding in terms of the quality and this is reflected in the prices they will pay.

Chinese restrictions on paper and card imports

China confirmed in January that it will be producing a catalogue of ‘solid waste materials’. This is a shift from its original plan of a ban on all waste imports from the end of 2020.

Historically around 60% of the UK’s recovered paper and card was exported to China. However, due to the poor quality of the materials, China now has strict rules around what it will and will not accept. The Chinese government is very focused on reducing the import of low quality recyclate. It now has rigorous checks in place to ensure any breach of this is punished.

Ultimately, China wants to protect itself from becoming a dumping ground for low quality recyclate. Because of this it has already taken measures to ensure it receives better quality paper and card through its pricing mechanisms and by rejecting bales that contain contaminated or low-quality paper and card. It is hoped that the proposal to introduce a catalogue rather than an all-out ban will mean that companies can continue to export good quality clean and dry card to China, if it can be qualified as a raw material, rather than waste.

Alternative markets

Alternative markets for paper and card export include Southeast Asia, India and Turkey. Recently these countries have taken some of the materials formally sent to China. These countries however are expected to follow China’s lead and seek to place restrictions on low quality imports. Indeed, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia have already imposed restrictions. The UK’s reliance on these markets therefore has had a significant impact and there is now an excess of poor-quality material on the market with a lower value.

However, paper mills across the globe still have an extremely strong appetite for top quality paper and card that has been segregated at the point of disposal. Recycling is still an extremely attractive outlet for card and paper but there needs to be a shift at every stage of the process. Education will play an extremely important part in this and consumers and businesses alike need to be informed about the benefits of segregation. Cawleys Small Action Big Impact campaign is focused firmly on cardboard recycling for the month of February. As part of this campaign, Cawleys will visit key organisations to spread the message about the benefits of recycling this valuable commodity stream. We will also be providing clients with an active resource pack to help clients spread them message throughout their organisation.

If your business would like information or help on how it can improve processes to ensure waste paper and card is kept as clean dry as possible speak to Cawleys. We offer a free waste audit, Infinity and commodity re-sale services that can help you keep your waste disposal costs as low as possible.


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