Stop shipping our green jobs abroad with the waste

Posted on: Thu 2nd Feb 2012

Recently I hosted a visit by Margaret Hodge, our local MP, to celebrate the ongoing success of our Dagenham plant. While recent Recoup figures have shown positive increases in recycling rates, I took the opportunity to highlight to Mrs. Hodge that the industry still has some significant barriers to overcome. In particular, the issue of overseas waste shipments and the impact they are having on our industry, especially the knock-on effect on low carbon job creation here in the UK.

More and more consumers are doing their bit for recycling and whilst most local authorities now collect plastic bottles at the kerbside, some waste companies are still sending huge volumes of plastic waste abroad rather than having it processed here in the UK, due to the incentives they receive via the government’s PRN credit system.  If this material stayed in the UK, it would reduce our imports of virgin raw materials and would create sorting and reprocessing jobs in the UK.  Recent reports have suggested more than 50,000 new UK recycling jobs would be created if 70% of waste collected by councils was recycled here in the UK. 

In fact, the issue is something that I and my industry colleagues are raising across the board with different policy makers. I asked the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, at the CIWM conference in July whether the PERN system would be changed to discourage the export of UK recovered material abroad. She responded that the Government was “committed to exploring options”. We’re not asking the government to stop waste exports altogether or depart from free trade, we are merely asking for a level playing field by reviewing the existing system which currently favours export of materials rather than domestic recycling as well as enforcing the rules around the export of waste. If this was supported with frequent and stringent inspections, input materials would be more readily available for UK re-processors. In the case of Closed Loop Recycling, we could execute our expansion plan more quickly, thus creating ‘green jobs’ in London and keeping valuable raw materials in the UK.

Effectively, the issue is an interface between economics and the environment. If our used plastic packaging stayed in UK, it would reduce our imports of virgin raw materials and would create sorting and reprocessing jobs in UK. You'd think that this would have universal appeal - lower unemployment and improved balance of payments. For example, it seems absurd that the PRN system provides a higher payment for exports than it does for domestically processed materials. This was not an intended consequence of the system when the rule book was written, but a result of the legislators, and all of us, learning about the detailed operations of the industry they were regulating.
We will continue to raise this issue, not simply for our own benefit but also for the wider industry which I know shares our views. We are hoping to gain wider support and go beyond the usual industry channels to raise it at Treasury and business level.
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