The UK has exported over 2.7 million tonnes of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong who have acted as the two main waste recipients for the UK since 2012. Last month, the Chinese government announced that it will ban all waste imports from January 2018. The ban will restrict any plastic collection from the UK and potentially increase the risk of environmental pollution if the waste is not handled appropriately.
Thérèse Coffey, the environment minister for the UK, has not taken a particular stand on this topic causing uncertainty surrounding the challenges which may potentially arise from the ban. Nonetheless, where some see a disadvantage, others see opportunities – particularly for the recycling and renewables sector. Several plants have developed the ability to generate energy from waste across the UK, including specific waste types previously consigned to landfill. Plastic in particular, serves as rich component which can often be recycled or re-used into alternative sources of energy.
The ban is a victory for UK-based recycling companies who will be able to benefit from incentives and produce. Whereas plastics and other recyclable waste would usually be buried or incinerated in counties as China or India, over two-thirds of the UK’s total waste production could be provided to UK-based companies which could generate a stronger domestic output of plastic and cut the need to export waste elsewhere.
Companies in the UK have joined a revolutionary movement by creating cut-edge technology capable of producing energy through pyrolysis technologies. If the UK opts to retain their waste, these companies will have an opportunity to be able to use these materials to their advantage whilst simultaneously solving waste retention concerns and renewable energy output. Likewise, privatising waste management could help the UK in its poor collection systems, providing aid to the government and its citizens.
Waste to Energy (WtE) plants are now an important part of the UK electricity mix as providers of reliable generating capacity totalling some 5.57TWh of electricity per annum, with processes being refined to achieve greater efficiency. The UK’s WtE industry has enjoyed two decades of stable investment under the public private partnership (PPP)/public finance initiative (PFI) regime, and with the additional subsidised waste which the ban could lead to, there is a possibility to increase energy generation significantly.
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