Plastics Recycling

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:29 pm on 23rd April 2019.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Leader of the Liberal Democrats 6:29 pm, 23rd April 2019

That is exactly the issue that I am getting on to. As it happens, I think I visited the hon. Gentleman’s waste plant when I was Secretary of State, so I have some recollection of it. It was a progressive development, but it has the anomalies that he describes.

My second question relates directly to that intervention; it is about the role of exports. We have somewhat flattering statistics that suggest that Britain is meeting, and indeed exceeding, the European waste objective—I believe that 48% is recycled. The definition of recycling does not equate to reprocessing. There are vast differences, and according to the National Audit Office, half of all products that are described as recycled are exported. Quite apart from the question that one might raise about the quality of the treatment in the countries to which such products are exported, there is a serious problem about what we are doing in this country, and in particular how we will respond to the closing of doors in China.

I think China now bans waste imports, and I believe that Malaysia has indicated that it is doing the same. If that is increasingly the pattern in the more developed of the emerging economies in Asia, where will this stuff go? Are we looking for cheap and nasty disposal in Africa, or will it be stocked and dealt with here, and if so, how? To deal with it involves incentives and support for the reprocessing industry—not just recycling, but reprocessing. As Mr Sheerman pointed out, that requires tax, because at the moment it is unattractive to reprocess. It is much more profitable to export. There will have to be a tax on the finished plastic products, which will have to be fairly substantial to level the playing field.

I ask the Minister what the Government have analysed the effect of the Chinese border closure to be. What impact will that have on the recycling and reprocessing industries, and how rapid an adjustment will we have to make to the closing of international markets?