Britain faces being scarred by illegal rubbish mountains, MPs have been warned.
China’s decision to effectively stop taking waste from UK homes and businesses for recycling means huge stockpiles are building up, producing fire, pollution and health risks.
There is a particular problem with mattresses, which are difficult to recycle, creating a fly-tipping risk.
Up until this year, Britain exported 66 per cent of plastic and 70 per cent of paper collected for recycling to China. At the same time, huge numbers of junked cars and household appliances were exported to the Far East to be recycled.
The Chinese have imposed draconian new restrictions on imports, accepting only the most pure, uncontaminated materials
However, the Chinese have imposed draconian new restrictions on imports – accepting only the most pure, uncontaminated materials.
Britain exported 50,000 tonnes of waste plastic to China in May 2014. That fell to 5,000 tonnes last October and is down again this month. Waste firms which previously sold British rubbish to China now have no market, which means huge stockpiles are developing.
Craig Curtis, director of the Recycling Association, told an inquiry by MPs on the environmental audit committee: ‘The ban is potentially the biggest problem the UK recycling industry has ever faced. We are now in a huge oversupply if there is no Chinese market.
‘We don’t have any figures for the tonnes that are building up, but it certainly is building up.’
Pat Jennings, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Waste Management, said: ‘All of those working in the commercial environment are making contingency plans in the event they need to stockpile.’
The pressure is so great that there is an increased risk of fly tipping and the creation of illegal rubbish dumps.
She added: ‘There is a risk of illegal activity. Illegal waste sites are already a significant issue. The Government and the regulator need to be mindful of this. Ultimately it leads to a risk of fires and pollution incidents.’
Jacob Hayler, executive director of the Environmental Services Association, said: ‘Mattresses are very difficult to deal with and recycle. Particularly in the south of England, you are finding a lot of mattresses piling up. It is a real issue.’
On the wider problem of stockpiles, he said: ‘There is always surplus material at this time of year, but the feedback we are getting is there is a lot more than in previous years.’
Ray Georgeson, chief executive of The Resource Association, said: ‘The shock that the Chinese ban will present to our system is dramatic. Over a period of time we have become comfortable – and to a degree complacent – that there was a ready and easy market for our economy to take advantage of.’