It was summer 2017 when China announced that its long reign as the world’s leading importer of recyclable material was soon to be over. China announced that the import of ‘foreign garbage’ would no longer continue, and 2018 looks set to be the year the ban comes into effect.

In order to protect their own environment, China has decided that it is no longer the world’s recycling bin. From now on, if we want things recycled, we’ll have to find somebody else to do it, or do it ourselves. But what kind of effect is this likely to have on waste clearance services, and the UK’s recycling targets? Here’s a quick look.

Why do we rely on China for waste clearance services?

As is often the case where China is concerned, the reason most of our recycling ends up there is because it’s cheaper and easier to sell it to them then it is to process it ourselves. By selling recyclable waste to China, organisations in the UK can meet their recycling targets without having to take on the costs of actually recycling it themselves.

So when your recycled waste gets taken away by waste clearance service providers, it gets transported to China, sorted, processed, broken down and transformed into new products that China can then sell off for a profit. This video by the BBC does a particularly good job of explaining it.

In fact, this effect is so profound that in 2016, over half of recyclable plastic waste from around the world ended up in China, a figure which amounts to about 7.3 million tons in total. The UK alone ships some two thirds of all our recyclable waste to China, which since 2012 alone has been about 2.7 million tons. The long and short of it is, the world has relied on China to deal with their recycling, and now China’s saying ‘no more’.

So what happens to the world of responsible waste clearance now?

It’s not the end of the world for recycling. There are other places recycling can go to be processed, and we can still process it ourselves – it just won’t be as easy as it once was. Officials from the EU have said they now expect more recycling to go to other countries like Malaysia and Vietnam, but the chances that they’ll manage to process all of the waste that China is now rejecting is fairly slim.

In reality, countries like the UK that send so much waste to China are going to have to start developing a more extensive sustainable recycling infrastructure of their own. That won’t be easy, and there’s a good chance that the price of recycling and recycled products will rise.

But relying on another country for 50 per cent of the world’s recycling probably wasn’t all that sustainable anyway – so if this forces us to start building long-term solutions to our existential waste management problem, then it may well turn out to be a good thing.

With waste management services from Skip It, you can be sure that recycling is our highest priority. With a a network of verified recycling facilities, we will make sure that your waste helps contribute to a responsible, sustainable future and you’ll have the paper trail to prove it.