Paper industry calls for more "self sufficient" UK recycling

Confederation of Paper Industries argues collapse in global market for waste paper highlights UK's over-reliance on exporting recyclate

The UK paper industry has lent its voice to the growing clamour for action over the collapse in demand for waste material from Chinese recyclers, urging the government to bolster domestic UK recycling capacity to help limit the risk of a repeat of the current crisis.

Demand for waste paper, cardboard, plastics and metals has collapsed in recent weeks with many of the Chinese recycling firms that dominate the global industry refusing to buy material from the UK and Europe amidst fears a recession will dampen demand for its products.

The price of a tonne of cardboard has reportedly collapsed from £40 to being virtually worthless, leaving many UK councils and waste management firms having to store material that they can no longer sell on.

In a statement released yesterday, the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) warned that while demand for paper waste from China was likely to recover in the medium term, there were "no obvious signs of Far East buyers returning to the market soon". It added that even if they did "it is very doubtful that prices for the material will be anywhere near where they were during the middle of 2008 and excess stored material is likely to suppress prices for a much longer period".

The CPI said that the collapse in prices provided evidence that the UK recycling sector had become over reliant on exporting waste and urged the government to rethink its strategy before setting still higher recycling targets.

"The global market has been used as a mechanism to drive continuous increases in recyclate collection from the UK waste stream and this has led in part to many stakeholders taking it for granted that it would always be there," the CPI said. "This strategy has been allowed to carry on, with little interference from government and indeed the new WRAP business plan showed that they felt there was little to be gained by continuing to develop domestic markets for the more common materials such as recovered paper."

Peter Seggie, recovered paper sector manager for the CPI, said that the UK should now "look at lowering future risks by examining what can be done domestically to make the UK more self sufficient".

He added that "before introducing higher and higher recycling targets, UK governments must ask themselves if there are solid, sustainable markets to accommodate reaching them".

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