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J&B Recycling Knowledge

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Where does your recycling waste go?

The UK currently exports about 45% of its plastic waste overseas to be recycled / reprocessed, prompting a longstanding debate about whether the UK should stop exporting waste to other countries, which have low-cost, established recycling and reprocessing industries.

According to the Recycling Association Chief Executive, Simon Ellin, in most cases exporters send material to legitimate mills and recycling facilities, where it is dealt with sustainably. He told Circular: ‘Often, we send paper, cardboard, plastics and other materials to facilities that are state of the art and more advanced than those we have in the UK. We do this because they need the material to create new boxes, packaging and other products that we buy and import.’

Exporting waste has led to bad publicity in recent years though. This is largely driven by criminal activity. In 2020-21 the Environment Agency prevented the illegal export of 176 containers from English ports, amounting to 3,500 tonnes of illegal waste. According to Greenpeace, this is considered to be a fraction of illegal exported waste who suggest around half of the plastic exported is mixed material that is not easily or widely recycled.

Environmental Agency Chief Executive, Sir James Bevan, believes the UK should set itself the challenge of getting to a position where all domestic waste is processed at home as soon as possible. Simon Ellin, however, criticised this, stating: ‘This language is dangerous when we are trying to encourage more people to recycle, especially as we are part of a global circular economy. It makes people believe that their recycling is dumped around the world, and that isn’t true.’

Ellin added that the UK imports more than it has the capacity to recycle, and creating such capacity wasn’t always possible ‘because of the high energy and labour costs… and the planning system makes it very difficult to build new infrastructure.’

Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association, concurs: ‘The UK does not have sufficient market capacity to re-shore all of its recyclable material at present and the ability to reprocess material will only be underpinned by domestic demand – which in turn will be driven by policy’.

That said, Hayler would like to work towards a situation in the future where only quality commodities that meet objective “end of waste” criteria can be exported. In the meantime, Hayler believes quality protocols and greater enforcement would continue to drive standards for export activity.

Under current UK law, people involved in the shipment of waste are required to take all necessary steps to ensure that it is done lawfully and that the waste is managed in an environmentally sound manner throughout its shipment and during its recycling. However, cases of exported waste containing plastic, mixed wastes that are mislabelled, and residue from of unreputable reprocessors being dumped continue to emerge regularly in the media.

J&B Recycling are the North East’s largest Waste Management Company processing both Local Authority and commercial waste streams. J&B operate from 20 acres of highly developed facilities across the region with a team of 200+ staff and a fleet of 17 vehicles collecting, sorting and processing over 200,000 tonnes of waste materials per annum.

At present 100% of the glass, newspaper, magazines, paper, aluminium and steel we handle remains in the UK, plus 80% of plastic stays in the UK, all for recycling, with the remaining 20% being exported to a reputable businesses in Western Europe to be recycled.

Only 20% of card/cardboard remains in the UK as there are only three papermills for it in the UK, so supply of this material is much greater than the capacity to process it. If we didn’t export these materials, there would be a huge surplus of unprocessed card/cardboard and the cost to establish a new mills is prohibitive – though an additional one will be coming on line in the next few years. 80% of card/cardboard we recover is exported to reputable mills across the world, all of whom we have a longstanding record with.

J&B Recycling provide waste management solutions for business across the North of England. Our main Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) is based in Hartlepool and we have a second site in Middlesbrough, making us ideally placed for collections across Teesside (Hartlepool, Stockton, Middlesbrough and Darlington). We also have a site in Washington and we operate established collection routes throughout Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, Sunderland, North Tyneside and Northumberland. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if we can help with your waste collection.

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