In the long term, it looks like we might end up sending more of our waste abroad to places like Malaysia and Vietnam. This has already started to happen, with exports to India, Turkey, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan having already overtaken those to China before the ban officially came into effect this year. But no short term stopgap solutions are going to be able to account for the sheer volume of waste that found its way to China before the ban.
For that reason, the UK is currently encountering a rubbish backlog. This was noted as far back as January, and has undoubtedly gotten worse since then. Elsewhere, countries like Hong Kong and Ireland, both of whom exported over 90 per cent of their waste to China are in an even worse state.
One of the reasons we have been most affected in the UK is because we don’t tend to sort our recycling into different materials, such as metal, plastics, glass and cardboards. To potential buyers of waste, therefore, the recycling collected from countries such as the Netherlands that already has them separated is more desirable. Countries that successfully sort their recycling waste have been far less affected by the ban.
It’s clear that in the long term we’ll have to think more carefully about how we deal with our waste collection. It remains to be seen whether that involves learning to sort recycling better so it can be exported elsewhere, or finding places to reuse it here in the UK. Some officials have since warned that we may have to burn plastic waste in order to prevent a further backlog.