China’s New Year message to Britain: keep your rubbish! The Beijing government introduces a ban on importing foreign plastic waste for recycling, leaving local councils in the UK with a sticky problem.
China's New Year message to Britain... Stop dumping your plastic waste on us.
Hi, I'm Leon Hawthorne. From today, the Chinese government is banning the importation of plastic waste for recycling.
You know those recycling bins that make you feel good about yourself. Well, when we put our shopping bags and plastic bottles in there, local councils had been shipping most of it to China. Half a million tonnes a year.
But China doesn't want to be the world's dumping ground anymore. It's banned 24 categories of plastic waste, which previously it had recycled into low grade materials used in its manufacturing industries.
Chinese industry is moving up the value chain. So, Beijing is saying: from now on, you deal with your own plastic problem.
This has created a massive headache for local government in Britain. The bins are filling up and they don't know what to do.
Some councils are exploring exporting the plastic waste to alternative countries like Indonesia and India.
To me, it's immoral and offensive that we should be dumping our waste on poor countries, while we continue to gorge ourselves on excess consumerism.
In any case, those countries don't have the capacity to deal with our waste.
In the short term, it looks as if councils will have to send more plastic to landfill; or alternatively incinerate it.
At least, incineration can produce energy that goes back into the National Grid, but burning obviously contributes carbon and other toxic fumes to the atmosphere.
The government in London has been caught napping. Environment Secretary Michael Gove admitted he hadn't given the subject much thought.
Well, start thinking, Michael.
This is an opportunity to develop an efficient recycling industry; and of course to encourage the reduction in single use disposable plastics.
Some of this can be achieved by us, consumers - in the choices we make; and by businesses going beyond the law and acting in a socially responsible manner.
But government action is needed to encourage or force less packaging altogether and greater use of recyclable materials.
Other simple initiatives include more public water fountains, so we don't have to buy water in plastic bottles.
A deposit return scheme for plastic bottles at supermarkets.
The true cost of using plastic - which includes the cost of disposal and recycling - must be reflected in the prices we pay.
So, the Chinese New Year message should be welcomed for the opportunity it gives us to put our own household rubbish in order.
I'm Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.