Skip to content

Is Recycling About To Hit The Fan?

Andrew Montford, GWPF

More countries are cutting back on waste imports

As we revealed in a recent report, a significant proportion of plastic said to be recycled has been shipped to the Far East where, because of the primitive nature of the waste management systems, a significant proportion ends up being dumped, burnt in open bonfires, or dumped into the oceans. Until recently, China was the recipient of most waste from European countries, and a sort of equilibrium was reached in which a blind eye was turned to the eventual fate of the waste and official recycling targets were apparently met.

However, as public awareness of the problem of plastic waste in the oceans grew, the Chinese decided they could no longer cope and,  at the start of 2018 instituted an import ban on plastic waste. The immediate response of the waste management companies was to transfer their business to other Asian countries, although these have even more primitive waste management systems than China. It is likely therefore that the amount of plastic ending up in the oceans has grown rather than fallen in recent months.

There have also been suggestions that a growing volume of waste is “accidentally” going up in smoke at recycling centres here in the developed world. In other words, our efforts to recycle have been something of an environmental disaster.

Malaysia and Vietnam looking to control waste imports

And it looks as though it’s going to get worse. There are also now signs that exports to south-east Asia will provide only temporary relief. According to, Malaysia and Vietnam are in the process of reducing or even eliminating waste imports too:

In the past week, exporters of material from the UK and Europe have reported that temporary controls have been imposed in Malaysia, which had become one of the key markets for material since China’s absence from the market, in particular for lower grade LDPE films. Tighter markets are also being seen in Vietnam where there are reports of mixed paper exports being restricted.

This could get very ugly indeed.